Planning Commission taking first steps to overhaul Baton Rouge design overlay districts

Baton Rouge is nearing completion of the first step in a lengthy rewrite of regulations for businesses seeking to build or renovate in a host of neighborhoods.

The Planning Commission on Monday passed a revamp of the Government Street Urban Design Overlay, a neighborhood-wide code of rules for building or renovating along the corridor that stretches from Jefferson Highway to Interstate 10. It’s the first step in a methodical review of every UDOD in the city, with the aim of cutting out contradictory or needless rules for economic development. The changes go the Metro Council next for final approval.

Planning Director Frank Duke says the Government Street UDOD changes are minor, but they represent a key first step in the process. Duke and his team are currently working on other districts including downtown, which should be completed in the coming months, as well as Jefferson Highway and the LSU North Gate area.

“If you have regulations that are confusing, that are onerous, that are too restrictive, that drives development away,” Duke says. “It doesn’t bring development to an area.”

In many of the districts, Duke’s aim is simply to eliminate regulations that directly contradict each other. For instance, one rule in the Government Street UDOD says buildings must be built adjacent to the sidewalk, while another requires them to have green space in between.

The process is slow, Duke says, because the city-parish is reaching out to neighborhoods and business associations in each area to get input, and also because the planning staff has limited resources for such an exhaustive process.

The North Gate area and Old South Baton Rouge has a UDOD that developers have long complained is overly burdensome and confusing. Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker has said she plans to convene a group of stakeholders in the area called Highland Connect to review the ordinances and come up with a new plan.

The review of UDODs throughout the city is part of the city’s master plan, FuturEBR, and has been ongoing for months.

“Some of these overlay districts are so badly put together and have contradicting provisions within them that does cause developers to say, ‘Why would i want to go in this area?’” Duke says.  

—Sam Karlin

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