Land use law seeks middle ground
People don’t like to be told what they can’t do with their property, but there are likely few homeowners who would want a lounge or scrap yard popping up next door.
A “land-use” law approved by the Lafayette City-Parish Council on Aug. 28 attempts to find a middle ground for the unincorporated areas of the parish.
The law does not prohibit any type of development, but it requires buffer space plus a greenbelt and fences based on how objectionable the new development might be to existing homes and businesses.
New commercial and residential developments often spur conflicts between what’s already there and what’s proposed.
In theory, most residents would likely support the rights of property owners to use their land as they see fit.
In practice, there are limits.
A new gas station, bar or pipe yard can expect opposition if families live nearby.
Most local governments attempt to manage the conflict through zoning laws, which carve up a city or parish into segments, allowing only certain developments in certain areas.
One section might be reserved for single-family homes, another might allow apartments and restaurants, and some sections will probably be reserved for pipe yards, machine shops or other industrial uses.
In zoned areas, property owners know what to expect.
If you don’t want to live next to a dirt pit, then avoid areas where zoning allows for dirt pits. If you want to open a bar, don’t buy property in an area zoned for single-family homes.
Lafayette has long had zoning, but the rural areas of Lafayette Parish have lacked any such regulations.
That can work when land is plentiful and developers have their pick of isolated areas where no one will be bothered by a new subdivision, dirt pit, mobile home park or convenience store.
In rural Lafayette Parish, controversies over new developments have become more of an issue as less land is available for those developments.
The new land-use law for the unincorporated areas of the parish will not eliminate those conflicts but could soften them.
The more a proposed development conflicts with what’s already in place, the more onerous the requirements for trees, fencing and buffer space.
For example, a dirt pit planned near a home would be required to have a 1,320-foot buffer, a 400-foot greenbelt with trees, and a fence.
Similar requirements would be in place for a wrecker yard, pipe yard, construction landfill or salvage yard.
While the law does not prohibit such businesses, there might not always be enough space to meet the buffering and greenbelt requirements, meaning the proposed project would be effectively blocked from certain areas.
Carencro implemented a similar land-use law in 2009, and officials there have said it has been an effective way to manage development without the stricter zoning laws that many rural residents would oppose.
The land-use laws don’t offer the protection and certainty that zoning can, but land-use laws also don’t impose as many restrictions — an attempt to strike a balance between the freedom of one property owner to do what he wants and the desire of his neighbor not to be bothered by it.
Richard Burgess covers Lafayette
city-parish government for The Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.