Smiley Heights’ plans hit the homestretch

Input sought from neighbors, public

After years of discussion, the Smiley Heights mixed-use development project is in the final planning stages and could be submitted for approval to the city-parish Planning and Zoning Commission in the next eight to 12 weeks.

Walter Monsour, president and CEO of the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority, said the vision for Smiley Heights is exciting and doable. The community will consist of schools, single- and multi-family housing, retailers and a police and fire station.

Monsour made his comments Monday night at a public hearing at BREC headquarters. The meeting was the first in a series this week to discuss the development in Baton Rouge’s midcity.

Planners will meet from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily through Friday in small groups at the BREC headquarters on Florida Boulevard with various Smiley Heights stakeholders — ranging from nearby residents to officials with Baton Rouge Community College — to get input on the project.

Preliminary drawings and renderings for what Smiley Heights may look like will be unveiled at 6 p.m. Thursday at the BREC headquarters. Additional input will be accepted to develop a draft master plan for Smiley Heights that will be unveiled at 6 p.m. Sept. 26, also at the BREC offices.

Smiley Heights is northeast of BRCC near Florida Boulevard, in a neighborhood bounded by Greenwell Springs Road and roughly between North Ardenwood Drive and North Lobdell Boulevard.

The first phase of Smiley Heights involves developing a 40-acre tract in the northeast quadrant of the 200-acre property north of Florida Boulevard.

That portion will be home to Baton Rouge Community College’s Center for Excellence in Auto Technology and the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board’s Career Academy.

Future development calls for building homes, 850 multi-family apartment units and about 25,000 to 30,000 square feet of commercial and retail space in Smiley Heights.

The commercial businesses will be restaurants and coffee shops that cater to BRCC students and nearby residents. Baseball and soccer fields for BRCC also could be a part of the development.

Steve Oubre, of Architects Southwest in Lafayette, a pioneer in smart growth, said the fact that Smiley Heights will be built around schools makes it unique.

“We’re so fortunate to have the state, the RDA, BRCC all at the table working on this,” he said.

Plans are for the residents of Smiley Heights to primarily be families from the surrounding neighborhoods. Single family homes in the development will start at about $165,000.

“This is not intended to bring gentrification,” Oubre said, noting 33 percent of residents are expected to come from nearby neighborhoods and another 28 percent will come from inside the Baton Rouge city limits.

Margaret Augustus, who lives on Callahan Street, near Smiley Heights, said she liked the plans she heard for the property.

“If they do what they say they are going to do, it will be real nice,” Augustus said. “We need to upgrade the area and fix the streets.”