Metro Council grants sidewalk waivers

Developers planning new subdivisions in East Baton Rouge Parish are expected to include sidewalks, but two new developments in the more rural southeastern part of the parish were granted sidewalk exemptions Wednesday from the Metro Council.

Developers for the subdivisions, planned off Tiger Bend and Hoo Shoo Too roads respectively, requested the waivers from the Planning Commission in May and were unanimously denied. The Metro Council voted 10-2 on Wednesday to reverse the decision and grant the waivers.

Only councilmen Ryan Heck and Scott Wilson opposed the waivers.

Nancy Curry, president of the Federation of Greater Baton Rouge Civic Associations, said waivers chip away at the intent and impact of FutureBR, the city-parish master plan adopted in 2011. FutureBR, which cost $1.9 million to develop, encourages development more amenable to walking and bicycles.

“The attitude becomes that you granted a waiver to them, so you have to grant me one, and I’m asking you to stop this way of doing business,” Curry said.

Jason Doise, a developer for one of the subdivisions, said the sidewalk is unnecessary because it’s a small development with a private road that doesn’t have any through traffic. “There’s no need for a sidewalk to walk, or ride your bike or for kids to play because it’s a private driveway,” he said.

He called it a “sidewalk to nowhere” because there are no sidewalks on adjacent roads ways to connect to.

Curry said the city-parish needs to think about the future.

“There’s no such thing as a sidewalk that goes nowhere, it will eventually go to something,” she said. “But this is the only way it can be implemented. You have to start somewhere.”

Sidewalks cannot retroactively be mandated. The requirement can be imposed only on new developments.

Councilman Joel Boé, who represents the area at issue, said the developments are too small to be considered true subdivisions. One of developments is two lots over 1½ acres and the other is three lots over 4 acres.

The developments will have gravel roads, which makes the sidewalks out of place, he said.

“This is the consensus of the area in an effort to keep with the rural feel,” he said. “Having sidewalks on a gravel private drive doesn’t look right and serves no purpose.”

The Metro Council also introduced an agenda item that would pave the way for “ride sharing” companies to come to Baton Rouge.

Currently, to carry passengers in exchange for a fare in Baton Rouge, one must be a licensed cab driver approved by the taxi cab commission.

But the amended ordinance, proposed by Heck and John Delgado, would relax those requirements.

Companies like Uber, SideCar and Lyft, which is known for the pink mustaches on its drivers’ cars, utilize smart phone apps to allow riders to hail a cab and pay the fares. In some cases, it connects riders to drivers who are using their own vehicles.

“These are vehicles dispatched through the internet, as opposed to the traditional method of standing on the street corner and hailing a cab, or the tried and not true method in Baton Rouge of calling for a cab,” Delgado said.

He said there are too few taxis in Baton Rouge, and they take too long to arrive. The easy access to transportation will reduce drunk driving, Delgado added.

The services are popular in bigger cities like San Francisco and New York, but in some places, including New Orleans, they have faced intense opposition from the taxi cab operators.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz/