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With exactly three months left until a deadline to get on a November ballot, organizers behind the effort to incorporate a city of St. George say they remain hopeful they can collect the 18,000 validated signatures they need. But they remain tight-lipped about how many they've collected so far, which has led to speculation their effort is losing steam. They say that is not the situation. "If we continue the pace we're on, it looks like we will make it," says Norman Browning, who is leading the movement. "Can I guarantee it? No. But are we on pace for it? Yes." Browning and fellow organizer Lionel Rainey spoke on a variety of St. George-related issues earlier today at the monthly meeting of the East Baton Rouge Parish Chamber of Commerce. Browning says volunteers are collecting about 500 signatures per week, and that the movement has gained steam since state lawmakers filed several bills targeting the incorporation effort. "People are fired up," Rainey says. "It seems like the more the opposition speaks, the more petitions we get because this is really about the right to self-determination." Also stirring the opposition are reports that the Mall of Louisiana and Baton Rouge General Medical Center—two potentially huge sales tax generators for the proposed city of St. George—are planning to petition for annexation into the city of Baton Rouge, which would result in the loss of tax revenues for the proposed city. Rainey concedes annexation would throw off the St. George budget by a lot, though he cannot say by how much. —Stephanie Riegel
As the Planning Commission prepares to meet tonight, yet another finalist for the city-parish's vacant planning director position has withdrawn his name from consideration. Woodrow Muhammad, planning director for the city of Central, notified the commission staff of his decision in an email earlier today. He is the third candidate to withdraw from consideration in the past month. "I was given an offer that I decided to take with the city of Central," Muhammad tells Daily Report, declining to disclose details about the new opportunity. "It's basically the same thing I'm doing now but more responsibilities, so I'm not going to pursue the director position." Though the search for a new director, which has been ongoing since shortly after longtime director Troy Bunch retired in November, is not on the agenda for tonight's meeting, Planning Commissioner James Gilmore says he is frustrated the search is taking so long and may formally suggest tonight an idea he has already floated to Metro Councilman Chandler Loupe: giving the job to Interim Planning Director Ryan Holcomb. "The two candidates I preferred withdrew, and I think Ryan is the next best qualified," Gilmore says. If Gilmore does move tonight to extend the offer to Holcomb—who confirmed to Daily Report last week that he would be interested—the commission could not vote on the item tonight but would have to wait until a special meeting or the monthly May meeting. —Stephanie Riegel
Among the big issues that will come before the Planning Commission tonight is the rezoning of Rouzan, Tommy Spinosa's mixed-use development off Perkins Road in Southdowns. The neighborhood's original designation as a traditional neighborhood development, or TND, was invalidated in February by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in a case brought by two property owners whose homes are surrounded by, but not part of, the development. Following the ruling, Rouzan automatically reverted back to A-1, or single family residential zoning, which raised all sorts of potential legal problems for buyers with homes under contract and for existing property owners. Since then, the city-parish has fast-tracked Spinosa's attempts to again zone Rouzan as a TND. Last week, the Metro Council amended the city-parish zoning code, removing the language that gave rise to the First Circuit ruling in the first place. Tonight, the Planning Commission will consider a revised concept plan for the 117-acre development, which appears, on paper, to meet the same stringent TND regulations that Rouzan was required to meet in 2008. The Metro Council has the final say on the rezoning request, and will take up the measure on Wednesday. Nearby Southdowns residents, who for years opposed Rouzan out of fear that it would harm the character of their neighborhood and overburden the infrastructure, say they will not oppose the rezoning request as long as the original requirements are codified into law. —Stephanie Riegel
The search for a new planning director in East Baton Rouge Parish has narrowed to three persons after candidate Carolyn Rutledge, of Columbus, Ga., withdrew her name from consideration.
The Advocate and The Times-Picayune prepare to do battle on another front—the Legislature—over the lucrative right to print legal notices.
The Metro Council is moving fast to help Rouzan, developer Tommy Spinosa's subdivision located off Perkins Road, have its status as a traditional neighborhood development restored. In late February, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the development's zoning designation as a TND was invalid because Spinosa did not have ownership and control over all of the property within the boundaries of the TND—including a servitude—when it was it was zoned as such in 2008. Last month—at the request of the Metro Council—the city-parish Planning Commission amended the city's zoning code to remove the provision about ownership and control that proved troublesome for Rouzan. The Metro Council Zoning Committee will vote on that measure later this month. In the meantime, at its meeting tonight, the council will introduce a separate but related measure to allow Spinosa to reapply for TND zoning under the amended zoning code—even though the council has yet to approve the zoning code change and the Planning Commission has yet to approve the rezoning request. "The rezoning case will be heard by the Planning Commission on April 21," explains Interim Planning Director Ryan Holcomb. "The Metro Council is going to introduce it today so that—assuming it is passed by the Planning Commission April 21—it will be heard by the council on April 23." Councilman John Delgado, who represents the area where Rouzan is located, says it's important to fast-track the process since residential construction at Rouzan is already underway and could be derailed if the issues raised by the First Circuit are not resolved. But some are concerned the process is moving too fast. —Stephanie Riegel
The search for a new planning director in East Baton Rouge Parish has narrowed to three candidates after one of the four remaining finalists for the position—Carolyn Rutledge of Columbus, Ga.—withdrew her name from consideration. Last month, the Planning Commission's top pick for the job, Cincinnati Planning Director Charles Graves III, declined an offer before terms had even been negotiated and before background and reference checks had been completed. Graves did not publicly cite a reason for pulling his name from consideration. Neither did Rutledge, who informed Planning Commission Chairwoman Tara Wicker of her decision in a March 28 letter that was forwarded to other members of the Planning Commission. "Thank you and all members of the Planning Commission for selecting me to come back for a second interview," the letter from Rutledge reads. "After careful consideration I have decided to withdraw my name." At least one Planning Commission member, Greg DuCote, says he was surprised by Rutledge's decision. "I thought she seemed very interested," he says. "She seemed very experienced and gave a good initial interview." Interim Planning Director Ryan Holcomb says a second round of interviews has not yet been scheduled because background checks are not complete. —Stephanie Riegel
Baton Rouge is the most sprawling midsized metro area in America, according to a new study by good growth advocacy group Smart Growth America, which looks at how communities have developed and gives poor scores to those with high urban sprawl and low connectivity. What's more, the study ranks the Capital Region's sprawl at 216 out of 221 U.S. cities of all sizes—including major metro areas like Atlanta and Houston. "Sadly, this doesn't come as a surprise," says Boo Thomas, director of the Center for Planning Excellence. "Our master plan, FuturEBR, recognizes this … it really underscores the need for a first-class transit system." Smart growth advocates both locally and nationally promote compact and connected development patterns in communities for several economic, environmental and quality-of-life reasons. As the "Measuring Sprawl 2014" report by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Smart Growth America, released today, puts it: "The researchers found that as Sprawl Index scores improved—that is, as areas became less sprawling—several quality of life factors improved with them." People who live in compact, connected metro areas have greater economic opportunity, the report says, as well as better transportation options and lower average spending on housing and transportation, and they lead healthier lives. There's also greater economic mobility in metro areas with low sprawl. "For example, the probability of an individual from the Baton Rouge, La., area (index score: 55.6) moving from the bottom income quintile to the top quintile is 7.2%. In the Madison, Wi., area (index score: 136.7) that probability is 10.2%," the study says. See the complete study. —Stephanie Riegel Read the full story.
Today's poll question: Do you think the level of urban sprawl in the Capital Region diminishes our quality of life?