Descendants Project urges community to stay abreast of proposed ordinance updates

Published 9:35 am Saturday, January 21, 2023

LAPLACE —Alerted to proposed changes that would limit buffer zone requirements, organizers with the Descendants Project urge residents to stay abreast of forthcoming St. John the Baptist Parish subdivision and ordinance updates.

Two public meetings scheduled for January 18 and 19 on the East Bank and West Bank were recently postponed. St. John the Baptist Parish administration will provide an update when the meetings are rescheduled.

According to St. John Parish administration, the goal is to address policy and procedural inefficiencies by:

  • streamlining language to be more easily understood;
  • improving zoning procedures;
  • updating the zoning use categories to provide more consistent terms and interpretations;
  • consolidating landscape requirements;
  • and updating parking provisions.

Drafts of proposed subdivision revisions were released for public review online at tinyurl.com/stjohnsubdivisions. Drafts for zoning divisions are also accessible online at tinyurl.com/stjohnzoning.

Since November 2021, the Descendants Project has been engaged in a lawsuit with St. John the Baptist Parish concerning the legality of the 1990 rezoning of a large tract of farmland in Wallace from residential to Industrial District Three (I-3).

Joy Banner, co-founder of The Descendants Project, said the parish’s proposed updates reduce the buffer zone separating residential areas from industrial development.

According to Banner, removing the existing 2,000 foot distance requirement in exchange for a 15-foot buffer zone has implications for safety and property values not only for the I-3 tract in Wallace, but for communities parish-wide. Banner was also concerned by proposed changes in setback requirements.

According to Justin Kray of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, setback requirements in zoning ordinances have been around for nearly 100 years.

“The idea is to have some proportionate response to whatever the height of a structure is. One of the original ideas of zoning law was to protect the light and air of neighboring properties from the encroaching tall skyscrapers in Manhattan, going back to the 1930s,” he said. “This (the proposed changes) is saying any structure up to 45 feet, or roughly three stories, is fine and not affected by a height setback requirement. Anything over 45 feet has to be set back an additional one foot per foot over 45 feet in height.”

Kray said the Greenfield grain elevator facility planned for the I-3 corridor in Wallace, with a high point of approximately 280 feet, would require a 250-foot setback under the formula included in the proposed changes.

Altering zoning ordinances is an extended process with requirements including but not limited to a land use plan, considerations of historical value or cultural significance, community feedback, and approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission and Parish Council during noticed meetings.

Banner urges residents to contact council representatives and participate in upcoming public meetings.
“This is not just a Wallace issue or a West Bank problem. This is going to apply to the entire parish,” Banner said.

She added, “It’s not an issue about whether you are for industry or against industry. I think even the most avid supporters of industry believe in us having the necessary precautions and safety measures. Many of those people actually believe in the buffer zones.”

According to St. John Parish administration, public presentations on proposed zoning and subdivision changes will be followed by a Q&A period.