Land use plan to evaluate zoning needs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 4, 2001


LAPLACE – In an effort to further develop St. John Parish while maintaining or bettering the quality of life of the residents, parish officials have approved the beginning stages of a comprehensive land use and zoning plan that will both evaluate the parish planning and zoning infrastructure and educate citizens on zoning needs. According to the plan presented to the St. John Parish Council at a recent meeting, the benefits of a comprehensive plan include more efficient use of parish resources and eliminating such problems as inconsistent zoning and traffic congestion. The Louisiana Urban Technical Assistance Center at the University of New Orleans will head the plan, and Meyer Engineers, Ltd. and Charbonnet and Associates will also assist. “Historically, local governments tend to get things backwards,” said Tim Joder of Urban Development at the University of New Orleans. “We will be able to reduce the level of controversy that comes about with development.” Stating that local governments usually let development grow, then plan afterwards, Joder said it would be important to conduct a community image survey, hold public meetings and allow citizens to provide input in order to see what the public wants from planning and zoning. Joder said many different development issues that are contributing to problems in the parish need to be addressed. Such issues ranging from flooding problems to “less than wonderful aesthetics” will be evaluated. “We’re going to take a look at all those facets,” said Joder. “We’ll try to come up with some solutions, but the first part of the plan is to get the citizens on board, to get them to understand.” Though the entire planning process would take several years, the first year will cost the parish $75,000 and contains a two-task agenda. Approved by the council, the first part of the plan will include an evaluation process of the current inner workings of Planning and Zoning, and the second part of the plan will focus on getting residents involved. Adrienne Labat of the St. John Planning and Zoning Department said the plan would help clarify some of the rules and regulations that are not currently clear concerning zoning. Until the early 1980s there were no zoning plans, but now with the growing of the parish, a more detailed plan is needed. Beginning with short range planning evaluation, a review of the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Zoning Board of Adjustments and the Utility Board, the reviewers will determine what issues are handled by each group and how decisions are formed within those groups. The plan will also include reviewing permitting procedures, code enforcement and inspection processes, subdivision regulations and zoning ordinances. Recommendations will be provided so regulations can be updated and better planning can take place. The second part of the plan focuses on the public, including about 20 public presentations to individual groups. A website to inform residents of the process and allow them an opportunity to interact will be developed. After public input is gathered a report will be written to serve as a guide for developing future phases of the plan. After the first phase is completed, it will be up to parish administration and the council to decide if they want to go further. The initial phase will take around a year to complete, and the parish will decide if the plan will continue on a yearly basis. The next step would be a land use survey of the entire parish to determine how land is currently being utilized. “We can’t plan effectively unless we know exactly what is sitting on each piece of land,” said Joder.