Among the items approved Monday by the Planning Commission at its monthly meeting was a revision to chapter five of the Unified Development Code, which deals with waivers. It’s among the latest of several chapters of Baton Rouge’s zoning code to get updated.
It may sound like bureaucratic nonsense, but when you dig into why the code needs revising and why it has been so challenging—the planning department has been working on it for several years now—it gets more interesting.
Chapter five, for instance, listed all the waivers to the code that were supposedly allowed. Except it didn’t. Planning department staffers had to go through every page of the code, including the appendix, because countless other waivers—not included in chapter five—were sprinkled throughout the document.
Other chapters of the UDC have proven just as maddening, says Planning Director Frank Duke. Currently, he and his staff are working on revisions to chapter eight—zoning districts, of which Baton Rouge has too many, including some we never use; and chapter nine—which deals with land uses.
As with waivers, there are countless inconsistencies between what the chapter on a specific topic contains and what is elsewhere in the document, which makes it problematic for developers, when they’re trying to decide which set of rules to follow.
For example, part of the UDC prohibits outdoor displays and storage in areas zoned neighborhood commercial. Elsewhere, the code allows up to 10,000 square feet for outdoor displays and storage in those same zoning districts.
Similarly, in certain districts, the code both prohibits car repair shops and allows them, depending on whether you’re reading the body of the document or its appendix.
As planning department staffers comb through it all in an effort to make the document as uniform as its name suggests, they sometimes are forced to decide which rule to go with. In those instances, Duke says he typically opts for the more restrictive of the two.
It’s been a long, slow process that won’t be completed until next year. But Duke says it should make for better development and land-use planning Baton Rouge down the line.
“If we can make the UDC more user-friendly and make it more clear with respect to what needs to be done, it will help people, particularly in the business and development communities.”