Sidewalk controversy keeps Planning Commission staffers busy

Officials at the Planning Commission have spent much of their day fielding phone calls and answering emails over an increasingly controversial plan to close public access to a private sidewalk that runs through Stanford Oaks subdivision connecting Cloverdale and Stanford avenues.

The plan isn’t sitting well with some Southdowns area residents, who will lose a popular pedestrian shortcut to the nearby LSU lakes—even though the subdivision is private and its roads and sidewalks are maintained by residents of the 13-lot development.

“Everyone seems convinced there was a guarantee that this would be open,” Duke says. “If there was some agreement made with people, we have no record of it. It does not show up in the minutes of the meetings or on the agendas and it is not reflected on the plats. I’ve got nothing.”

By law, the Stanford Oaks Property Owners Association has the right to close the sidewalk through the 5.4-acre development. Though it was open for many years, the SOPOA board voted in June to install an electric gate at the sidewalk because of multiple “… incidents based on criminal activity and nuisance concerns,” the board says in a written statement.

On social media, critics of the planned gate have pointed to the issue as an example of the poor planning and lack of connectivity and walkability that characterizes much of Baton Rouge. Duke, who was not planning director when Stanford Oaks was approved, does not necessarily disagree but says there’s little political will to do away with gated communities, as some cities around the U.S. have done in recent years.

“The only way you could do something about this was if you made gated streets illegal,” he says. “I haven’t found anyone here who wants to do that.”

Duke says contrary to a statement he made earlier this week, the Planning Commission did in fact grant Stanford Oaks developer Scott Bardwell a waiver to build a sidewalk on only one side of the street, not both, as was required by law at the time. However, that waiver had nothing to do with whether the sidewalk could be gated and closed to the public.

—Stephanie Riegel  

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