Rezoning request for Plank Road tract illustrates challenges of implementing new master plan

    Build Baton Rouge is opposing a measure that will come before the Planning Commission at its regular monthly meeting this evening to rezone a property at the intersection of Plank Road and Choctaw from residential to heavy commercial, which, if approved, would clear the way for a convenience store to be developed on the site.

    Arkansas-based investor group Bluefin Development has filed the rezoning request for the property, stating in its application it plans to develop a convenience store with an attached retail shell that could accommodate up to four tenants.

    The developers currently have a purchase agreement on the property, which is pending approval of the rezoning request.

    Build Baton Rouge President and CEO Chris Tyson, whose agency recently completed a yearlong master plan for the redevelopment of Plank Road, says while he welcomes new development to Plank Road, Bluefin’s plans effectively amount to adding another packaged liquor store to the long-neglected corridor, which is something the area doesn’t need.

    “Our position is, obviously, a tremendous amount of resources, time and community effort were put into a master plan that calls for intentional, thoughtful investment that will turn the tide of disinvestment, decay and all the social stigma along Plank,” he says. “The Plank corridor features a concentration of some of the region’s worst quality of life indicators. Another package liquor-serving establishment will exacerbate these conditions and represents a predatory industry capitalizing off of the concentrated blight and social challenges so many of us are working to turn around.”

    But landscape architect Michael Petty, who filed the rezoning request on behalf of Bluefin Development, says a C-store-anchored retail strip is not the same thing as a packaged liquor store.

    “My client is intending to develop more than just a Circle K,” Petty says. “They intend to have between one and three leasable shell spaces for other businesses.”

    Petty believes the problem is that the Plank Road Master Plan identifies that particular corner of Plank as the proposed site of a two- to four-story mixed-use development that would also serve as a transit hub for the area.  

    “I applaud the plan and what they have in mind would be amazing for the block,” he says. “We want to be good neighbors. But that’s just not what my client is prepared to do.”

    The issue underscores the challenges of implementing a plan like the Plank Road master plan. While it’s full of ambitious ideas, private developers, investors and property owners may not have the desire or wherewithal to implement them; and as long as Build Baton Rouge doesn’t own the land, it cannot force the private sector to act on its vision.

    It’s a challenge Tyson acknowledges. But he says in this particular instance the issue comes down to allowing another packaged liquor store in the area.

    “The site offers a prime opportunity to improve the quality of place along Plank and a signature development that could be a gateway feature for the Plank Road corridor and North Baton Rouge,” he says. “Developing a gas station and package liquor-serving convenience store greatly undermines the potential for place-making and raising property values.”

    The Planning Department staff has recommended approval of the rezoning request. The commission meets today at 5 p.m. in the Metro Council chambers. 

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