“I don’t think we can run from land-use restrictions anymore.” LAYTON RICKS, Livingston Parish president
Livingston Parish is experiencing growing pains and residents are worrying about future growth, according to data collected for creation of a parish master plan.
“There’s a lot of frustration” shown in the numbers, but also some optimism upon which to build, said Jeff Winston, the contractor helping the parish create the plan.
Initial data collected from more than 200 people who attended a series of public meetings gave some predictable answers about issues such as traffic congestion, along with some answers about land use that surprised Winston and others.
When asked to prioritize their concerns about what would happen as growth continues in the parish during the next 10 years, increasing traffic congestion ranked first, followed by declining conditions of roads, strain on infrastructure and services, and deterioration of school quality.
Those were followed by the worry that the parish would lose its rural character.
The concerns about roads and resulting traffic problems can be linked with the concern about jobs, Winston said.
Because Livingston Parish serves as a bedroom community for people who work in Baton Rouge and elsewhere, the road and traffic problems won’t get better without job creation in the parish, he said.
“It only gets worse unless the commuting changes and the parish becomes more self-sufficient,” Winston said.
While a significant number of those polled said they want job growth, the data also showed concern about where industry and large businesses locate.
More than 60 percent said industrial growth was all right in unincorporated areas of the parish, provided that it is limited to locations near existing industry or other designated locations.
Less than 5 percent of the people participating in the survey said they felt industrial growth should be allowed anywhere.
The answers weren’t much different for large-scale commercial growth, such as warehouses and office complexes. Almost 60 percent said that type of development is OK in unincorporated parts of the parish near either existing commercial locations or in designated locations.
Another 22 percent said such growth should occur only in cities and towns. Just 7 percent said such commercial growth should be allowed anywhere.
Parish President Layton Ricks said he was surprised by those numbers, but added that because of projections indicating huge population increases in the parish, the need for land-use planning can’t be ignored.
Already one of the fastest-growing parishes in the state, Ricks said, the latest studies indicate Livingston’s population of about 130,000 will grow to 337,000 in 25 years.
“I don’t think we can run from land-use restrictions anymore,” he said.
Winston said he was surprised that of those surveyed, “63 percent said they support the parish taking an active role in influencing where growth occurs. We thought there might be more of a ‘less government’ or ‘don’t dictate’ attitude.”
When asked about small commercial establishments, almost 45 percent of those surveyed said such businesses should be allowed to open anywhere.
Livingston Parish has no zoning outside the cities of Denham Springs and Walker, and attempts at creating parishwide zoning have never gotten the support of more than a few members of the Parish Council.
Winston said the questions didn’t ask specifically about zoning so as not “to get a knee-jerk reaction” to that term.
Nevertheless, of the people surveyed at the meetings held across the parish, less than 17 percent said landowners should be allowed to do whatever they want with their property.
Winston said the data indicate people want “predictability” in what would move in next to them.
Winston said that in working on other projects with commercial clients, he has found that they, too, want predictability about how nearby land will be used. They want to know what the community wants of them.
When asked about past growth in the parish, 43 percent said it has been too fast or way too fast, while 34 percent said it has been about right and 15 percent said it has been too slow or way too slow.
Likewise, about a third said the quality of development has been about right, while 40 percent said it has been poor or very poor and 17 percent said it has been good or very good.
While not a statistical sampling of the population, the people who have participated so far fit the targeted mix of people from cities and unincorporated areas, said Winston, a principal in Winston Associates, the firm that has the master plan contract.
The firm collected the data using electronic surveys of participants in the public meetings, according to documents obtained from the company.
Issues about future subdivision growth that were of most concern to people were those that involved water, woodlands and wildlife.
On recreation issues, 54 percent said more recreation areas are needed, though about half of those said they aren’t willing to pay higher taxes for such facilities, and 43 percent said additional facilities aren’t needed.
Those who favored more recreational areas listed natural areas and trails first. They were followed by bike paths and lanes, playgrounds, active parks, and sports fields.
As far as the parish’s master plan goes, most felt it should be flexible.
Of those polled, 54 percent said there should be a plan, but not so rigid that it couldn’t be departed from if it would be in the public benefit to do so. Another 18 percent said there should be a general plan of development, but it would need to be “very flexible.”
Only 17 percent said the parish should create a plan and stick to it even if it discourages some types of development.
Another 6 percent said a plan isn’t important.
Winston said that if the parish produces a good plan and follows it, that it would help to prevent some of the frustration that could be caused by future growth.
He said his firm is planning a second round of public meetings in which people can comment on some of the options formulated from the results of the first round of meetings.
After the master plan is produced, it will go through an adoption process that includes public hearings, Winston said.
Eventually, the plan will go before the Parish Council, which can make changes.
The state’s Office of Community Development Disaster Recovery Unit provided the parish with a $450,000 grant to create the master plan.