Metro Council punts on study over rezoning of Highland, Pecue properties; approves CATS route eliminations

    Editor’s note: This story has been changed since original publication. An earlier version stated Dantin Bruce Development’s Valhalla development calls for 20 homes on 15 lots. The development would include 20 homes on 15 acres. Daily Report regrets the error. 

    A seemingly innocuous study to determine whether it is appropriate to rezone property along stretches of Highland Road and Pecue Lane from rural to REA1 led to a passionate debate between developers and area residents that lasted for nearly an hour during Tuesday’s Metro Council meeting.

    The council ultimately deferred asking the Planning Commission for a study on the issue until its Nov. 24 meeting. A few council members appeared angry that members of the East Baton Rouge Planning Commission did not attend the meeting to answer questions, leading to Councilman Buddy Amoroso’s motion to defer the item until questions could be answered. The motion passed with two objections.

    At issue is the density difference allowed under the rural and REA1 zoning designations. Rural allows for seven homes per acre, while REA1 allows for just one home per acre. Some residents want a blanket rezoning of the entire areas of Highland Road between Siegen Lane and Interstate 10 and Pecue Lane between Perkins Road and Highland from rural to REA1 to stave off higher density developments.

    The Metro Council altered the definition of rural zoning in 1994, which previously had only allowed for one home per acre. The change was cited several times at Tuesday’s meeting as a precedent that should allow the council to make the zoning change the residents are calling for. Several residents on Highland and Pecue had implored the council to approve the study because they contend Highland is already overcrowded and more residential development could exacerbate the problem.

    Ron Ross, chair of both the Protect Highland Road Task Force and the Highland Lakes Civic Association, said some residents paid out of pocket to hire engineers to perform traffic studies to bolster their argument. The engineers found the intersection of Highland and Pecue is one of the most dangerous intersections in the city, he said, and it is already over capacity. Any further development of the area could strain water management issues, he added. Ross told the council he and others have obtained more than 200 signatures from residents who support the zoning change.

    The residents in that area successfully fought developer Larry Jordan’s proposed Heritage Oaks development earlier this year, Ross noted, and they want to change the designation to thwart any future attempts at high-density development in the area. Brian Dantin of Dantin Bruce Development is now planning a lower-density development on that same property. Plans for his development, Valhalla, call for 20 homes on 15 acres. The Planning Commission will take up his application at its Nov. 16 meeting.

    Dantin urged the council to oppose a blanket rezoning of the area, saying it would not only affect his development, but other people on Highland who do not support the move.

    “If people want to do this, let them do that with their own property,” Dantin said. “There’s a lot of people out there on Highland Road that don’t want to do this because they’re not here and they don’t know anything about the fact that their property is about to be (rezoned).”

    Larry Bankston, executive director of the Baton Rouge Growth Coalition, told the council that approving the study and subsequent rezoning would circumvent the Planning Commission.

    “What we have today is we have individuals who are trying to rezone other people’s property,” he says.

    Councilman Ryan Heck is also asking the Planning Commission to determine whether the ordinance allows the Metro Council to rezone a property without the landowner’s permission by a majority vote and then recommend the best course of action. Heck wants the vote to be unanimous, but says he would accept a supermajority, or nine votes, if rezoning is recommended.

    Also at last night’s council meeting, the council approved Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle’s item to remove from city-parish job applications a question about an applicant’s criminal history, and also gave final approval to eliminate two low-performing Capital Area Transit System bus routes serving downtown. The council also voted to defer until Dec. 9 voting on setting the salary for the incoming mayor.

    —Ryan Broussard