Newsmaker of the Week: Frank Duke

    Frank Duke, city-parish planning director, made waves this week when he axed the long-standing 12-member Zoning Advisory Committee amid ethics concerns over its members’ potential dealings with the Planning Commission.

    The ZAC has long advised the Planning Commission on ordinance changes, and flew largely under the radar for years until 2009, Daily Report wrote this week. The Parish Attorney’s Office last month alerted Duke to the potential of conflicts of interest between the two committees.

    At issue is the fact that members of the Zoning Advisory Committee, comprising realtors, planners, engineers and other development leaders, sometimes represent clients before the Planning Commission—the very board they are advising.

    On Tuesday, Duke decided to disband the ZAC, and recommended that a new board not be appointed in 2017. In his email to ZAC members notifying them of his decision, Duke cited the parish attorney’s research that concluded it is a potential ethical conflict to have members of the advisory board representing clients who sought approval from the Planning Commission.

    Troy Bunch, who held Duke’s job for more than 30 years, created the ZAC, and the little-known board did not make its meeting minutes or membership public until eight years ago. In more recent years, including since Duke took over in 2014, the board has become more transparent and an integral part of rewriting the parish zoning code.

    Since he first took the job, Duke has stressed the importance of rewriting the zoning code to make it less “one-size-fits-all” and integrate it with the diversity of Baton Rouge’s neighborhoods. Duke has called for changes to regulations on parking, landscaping and height restrictions on buildings, among other things.

    The process of updating the city-parish Unified Development Code has been slow-moving and arduous, and Duke found more and more issues with local regulations as he dug into it. The FuturEBR master plan called for changes to the UDC, and the ZAC analyzed and some of the changes Duke recommended.

    In a Q&A with Business Report shortly after he took office, Duke said the UDC needs a “thorough revamping.”

    —Sam Karlin

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