Livingston Parish eyes zoning, commercial corridor

LIVINGSTON —Officials say they are considering creating a commercial corridor that would run across Livingston Parish along Interstate 12 and U.S. 190.

The corridor would be zoned to attract manufacturers, retailers and other businesses.

“If there is no zoning, businesses are worried about what is going to pop up beside them,” Parish President Layton Ricks said. “Businesses want to know what happens if they spend millions of dollars to locate here.”

The idea of zoning hasn’t been popular in the parish, but not having zoning makes it harder to recruit some retailers and manufacturers, he said.

“My idea is to create zoning in this commercial district but to maintain our residential lifestyle below and above it,” Ricks said.

The width of the corridor hasn’t been determined but could run from 1,000 feet north of U.S. 190 to 1,000 feet south of I-12, he said.

Parish Councilmen Chance Parent and Ricky Goff said that, in addition to zoning, they want to see other regulations and infrastructure improvements that would make the corridor attractive to desirable businesses.

Putting such a package in place “will be a challenge,” Parent said.

Just creating zoning would be a first for the council. Council members from rural districts have blocked all past attempts at zoning in unincorporated parts of the parish.

But it may be easier to sell the idea of zoning for just the corridor along U.S. 190 and I-12 compared to earlier attempts at parishwide zoning, proponents say.

Parent said the people he has talked to in his district north of Denham Springs have told him they don’t mind zoning the corridor as long as it doesn’t include zoning the rural settings where they live.

Councilwoman Sonya Collins, who represents a rural district in the south-central part of the parish, said she doesn’t expect opposition from her constituents as long as the proposal doesn’t affect their land.

“My district hates zoning,” but the people like the idea of having businesses in easy driving distance along I-12, she said.

“I think it will be great,” Collins said of the corridor idea. “I don’t think it will be a (political) problem for me.”

Council Chairman Marshal Harris said people who have homes in the corridor would be grandfathered and wouldn’t have to move.

The option to convert their property to commercial status would just make it more valuable, he said.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Harris said.

Councilwoman Joan Landry said most of the people in her district south of Denham Springs like the general idea of zoning and she sees no opposition to zoning the corridor that runs along the main east-west highways.

Of the six council members who could be reached, five said they favor the idea. Councilman Delos Blackwell, who represents a district on the northeastern side of the parish, said he wants more information.

“I think it will fly,” said Derral Jones, mayor of the town of Livingston, which would be located within the corridor.

The town has its own zoning ordinance, as do Denham Springs and Walker.

Some opposition might develop but probably would be minimal because of the limited scope of the corridor, Jones said.

“We haven’t gotten down to details,” Landry said, adding that she thinks some of the land in the corridor should be zoned commercial and some zoned industrial.

Creating a corridor that includes industrial zoning would help attract manufacturing, said Randy Rogers, executive director of the Livingston Economic Development Council.

At least half of the industries looking for sites specifically want land that is zoned industrial, Rogers said.

Industry officials worry about neighborhoods popping up next to their sites if they build plants that aren’t protected by zoning, he said. Then plant officials sometimes have to deal with complaints from neighbors about noise or other issues, he said.

Companies looking for a site to build a plant are more likely to want to locate along U.S. 190 and the railroad that runs next to it. Retailers are more likely to want to locate the near I-12 interchanges where they get visibility and easy access for customers, Rogers said.

Realtor Lawson Covington said giving retailers “locations they can feel comfortable with will be good for the parish.”

Retailers also are concerned about what might move in next door if there is no zoning, said the realtor, who handles commercial property in Livingston Parish.

That’s especially the case away from the interchanges or main thoroughfares, Covington said.

Providing accessible land for businesses along I-12 away from the interchanges is one of the ideas some corridor proponents are pushing.

Parent said the land along the interstate between interchanges could be made more attractive to businesses by the addition of service roads.

Asked about paying for the cost of such roads, Parent said the businesses that locate in the corridor could help pay for them.

“We would put impact fees on developments to help with infrastructure,” he said.

It’s possible some of the owners of large tracks of land along I-12 would donate the land for service roads in order to increase the value of the land along those roads, Parent said.

He said he would like to see service roads that run completely across the parish from Denham Springs to Albany.

Goff said building a service road on the south side of I-12 from Denham Springs to Satsuma is feasible.

Now that large medical facilities have opened south of I-12 at Walker and Satsuma, the area is ripe for doctor’s offices, Goff said.

With an airport planed for the area, the opening of company headquarters along that stretch is also possible, he said.

Goff said he thinks the corridor should have guidelines for architecture, signage and landscaping.

Parent said he would like to see “a strict code” providing for uniform development in the corridor.

He said he expects the parish go “get things rolling this year” on the corridor idea.

Ricks said he plans to make a presentation to the council in six to eight weeks.

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