Lafayette council approves development plan

Lafayette has a plan.

The City-Parish Council voted 6-3 on Tuesday to endorse a long-term comprehensive plan for Lafayette Parish’s growth and development, a thick document that lays out strategies for addressing issues ranging from traffic, the economy, recreation and public safety to how and where city-parish government should encourage new developments.

The plan itself does not bring any major changes but instead serves as a guidebook for new policies and regulations.

“It’s kind of a vision, a pretty picture. That’s what it is now,” said City-Parish President Joey Durel.

The plan has been under development since 2012 and grew out of series of community forums over the past two years.

It is essentially a long list of goals and how they might be achieved: reducing blight, building more parks, dealing with south Lafayette’s gridlock, improving drainage.

The city-parish Planning Commission approved the comprehensive plan last month.

Under state law, the council’s OK was not required, but its endorsement was sought because council approval will be critical to follow through on many of the recommendations.

“Successful implementation will require this body to take action,” City-Parish Chief Development Officer Kevin Blanchard told council members. “In the end, this is just a plan.”

Even with the council’s vote of support on Tuesday, it was apparent some members were wary.

Councilman Brandon Shelvin questioned a section endorsing Lafayette School Superintendent Pat Cooper’s “turnaround plan,” which is now the subject heated controversy at the School Board.

A section calling for a special redevelopment authority to tackle blighted properties attracted the attention of Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who said such efforts must be directed by people living in the communities targeted for redevelopment.

“I am convinced that the best development is when you engage the stakeholders and let them drive the bus,” Boudreaux said.

Council William Theriot grilled Blanchard over portions of the plan that advocate new regulations for development and other sections that discuss the possibility of new taxes.

The plan does not endorse any tax proposal, Blanchard said, and the council would have the final say on any new taxes.

“I think what it acknowledges is that if there are things out there this community wants, we are going to have to figure out how to pay for them,” he said.

Theriot honed in one section of the plan that calls for preserving farm land and worried about restrictions effectively blocking development of large rural tracts.

“Will there be penalizing developers for building in unincorporated areas?” he asked.

The plan, in general, calls for encouraging new developments in areas where roads, utilities and other infrastructure exist — mostly in the city of Lafayette — but any new regulations would need council approval.

Blanchard said the finer points of the plan can be changed and he expects it to be a “living, breathing” document that does not tie the city-parish government to any particular policy or regulation.

“It’s much more important that we’ve become the sort of community that’s always planning,” he said.

City-parish officials have been discussing the need for a comprehensive plan since the 1990s, but a prior effort, dubbed Lafayette in a Century, produced reams of recommendations that have gathered dust, in large part because there has been little buy-in from the council.

“It’s been almost 20 years that people have been talking about having a real comprehensive plan,” said Councilman Don Bertrand.

Voting to endorse the plan Tuesday were councilman Bertrand, Boudreaux, Shelvin, Keith Patin, Jay Castille, Don Bertrand and Kevin Naquin.

Opposing the plan were councilmen Theriot, Jared Bellard and Andy Naquin.