Initiative designed to improve efficiency
Until recently, an old fire station on a small lot on South 15th Street in Baton Rouge was considered a BREC park. However, since it got little use and the building has been closed for the past three years, BREC decided at a meeting last month to declare the park “obsolete” and return it to the city-parish.
The fire station lot was one of two properties the East Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission recently deemed “obsolete” — the first among about 17 properties the commission is considering for that designation.
The South 15th Street property belongs to the city-parish, but BREC was granted permission to use it as a park in 1967. However, the lot is very small and the building didn’t really work as a recreation center, said Ted Jack, assistant superintendent of BREC.
As part of an overall effort to make BREC more efficient, its staff has been looking at the more than 180 parks and properties it manages in East Baton Rouge Parish to identify areas that either aren’t usable, aren’t needed or aren’t wanted as part of the park system.
The idea is to locate and then try to sell these properties so the money can be used for other projects.
There are a variety of reasons a property might be considered for sale, including that it could be too small to be usable, the fact that it’s close to a much bigger park so it’s redundant, it’s in a floodplain or it’s in an area where people don’t want a park.
The latter is the case with a 2.2-acre property on Jean Lafitte Avenue.
Donated to BREC in 1991, the commission started developing the property by installing a playground only to be told by nearby residents that they didn’t want a park located in the spot. BREC removed the playground equipment and has been talking to the donors, who are agreeable to having the land sold and the money being used for other BREC projects, Jack said.
The commission voted to move forward with selling the property after checking that the donors wouldn’t be penalized by making a donation through the sale of the property instead of having it used as a park.
Most of the properties being considered as obsolete land were donated, so before anything is moved to the commission for approval, donors need to be contacted for their consent, Jack said. If donors don’t want a property sold, it won’t be, he said.
Other properties are small outparcels that may have been included as part of a larger donation, but are located across the street and are so small at to render them not usable, Jack said. Others have structures on the property which leaves little usable space, Jack said.
“There’s not a whole lot of things someone can do with some of these properties,” Jack said. “Some of them, I don’t think I’ll even be able to give them away to tell the truth.”
The properties range in size from 12 acres at Cortana Place to numerous tenth-of-an-acre parcels located near much larger parks for the community.
The work to identify which properties might be obsolete has been slow going, Jack said, because of the issues that have to be addressed with each property.
In addition, he said, it has been a lower priority for BREC than construction and renovation of parks.
“On the flip side, they’re not costing us much to keep,” Jack said of the unused property.
Some parks that are not developed are more for conservation purposes, he said. Although some may see that as a waste of land, there are many benefits these areas have from offering bird watching, to water quality and more, so those aren’t the properties BREC is considering in this obsolete land project.
Jack said he doesn’t expect significant public concern over the proposed sale of some BREC property, although some people say BREC shouldn’t sell any properties because it opens “Pandora’s Box” — that it could prompt some to look at established parks like Highland Road Park as a great place for a housing development.
That’s not going to happen, he said. Parks need to be preserved, but properties that provide little to no recreational benefits would be better out of the BREC system.
“These are obsolete for a reason,” Jack said.