Perkins Road site at center of uproar
A request to convert a home real estate office on Perkins Road in Southdowns to a doctor’s office is drawing ire from residents who say the move inches the south side of Perkins Road toward commercial development, a move they say is a violation of what the city’s new comprehensive plan envisions for the area.
“We participated in FutureBR. We obtained that overlay of residential neighborhood. And we assumed that was a protection for us,” said Angela Angelloz, who lives in the area and is a member of the Southside Civic Association, more commonly associated with its opposition to the nearby Rouzan development.
The proposal is to be taken up by the Baton Rouge Planning Commission later this month.
Ben Skillman, who is a local real estate developer, owns the 1.6-acre site at 4150 Perkins Road, at the southwest corner of Stuart and Perkins.
“Since I’ve been operating it as an office for all these years, I don’t know what the status is,” Skillman added. “I’ve had my attorney tell me that it’s ‘office.’
It’s not commercial,” he continued. “It’s actually a ‘transitional (zone.)’ ”
Skillman has applied to the Baton Rouge Planning Commission to zone the site as an Infill Small Planned Unit Development, what’s known in planning parlance as an ISPUD. That is a form of zoning with specific development criteria that takes into consideration the property’s use and surroundings. ISPUDs have become more common in Baton Rouge, especially for small developments giving the developer more flexibility than Baton Rouge’s more general zoning designations might allow.
However, neighborhood organizers like Angelloz say these planning devices are little more than “spot zoning,” and function more as a way for developers to circumvent the city’s comprehensive plan.
“I think that the city in the past has turned to the
ISPUD or the PUD as a way of placating the neighbors by saying, ‘Oh, but look, they have to have plans.’ But this dodges the whole point. It’s not that plan. It’s the changing of the zoning to something less than residential,” Angelloz said.
For its part, FutureBR, the city’s newest rewrite of its comprehensive plan, proposes that the south side of Perkins Road in the Southdowns area be zoned Residential Neighborhood and Compact Neighborhood, designations the Southside Civic Association worked to write into the plan during numerous public meetings.
Skillman said he’s only asking that the property be used as a doctor’s office, and if it’s not, it reverts back to residential.
“And I’ve worked hard to make sure that this was something everybody could live with,” Skillman said.
“We can’t be in agreement with that,” Angelloz said. “Because our primary tenet is to keep the south side of Perkins Road residential. That’s what it’s zoned. There’s no secret about the zoning.”
FutureBR, adopted in September by the Metro Council, is in its “implementation process,” which means aligning public policy such as new zoning distinctions outlined in FutureBR with the city’s Unified Development Code. And that could take some time, say officials.
“I think we’re on track,” said John Price, the mayor’s new liaison to the team charged with implementing key parts of the city-parish’s development plan.
“I guess the best way to explain it would be to say that under FutureBR, there are a number of ‘action items.’ Each area of element of the FutureBR plan is broken down with these action items and there’s a lead agency.
“Primarily, if you’re talking about land-use planning, the heavy lifting is going to be done by the planning commission, and the bulk of all the action items that pertain to regulatory, subdivision and development,” he continued.
In the next three to six months, the city will likely issue an update noting how much of FutureBR has been formally implemented, Price added.
Price chose not to comment on the Perkins Road issue since it’s due to come before the planning commission in the coming weeks.
“I’m studying it and I’m getting input from everyone,” Price said. “I think the issue is going to end up being one — kind of like Rouzan — you’ve got these historically old neighborhoods where people have invested a great deal of money and they’re not anxious to see commercial come into their backyard and I think that there will be some controversy over it.
“Bottom line is, I believe in the FutureBR plan, and I would like to see that followed and adhered to as closely as possible,” Price said.