Zoning change approved for River District development

Plans are moving ahead on the River District, a nearly 35-acre mixed-use development that will be located along Nicholson Drive between downtown and LSU.

The Metro Council swiftly and unanimously approved a zoning change Wednesday necessary for the project, and developers say they could break ground on the first phase by the end of the year.

“We’re excited about the future of the project and what it will mean for Baton Rouge,” said Dalis Waguespack, managing partner for the River District.

Steve Oubre, of Architects Southwest in Lafayette, said the first step was to introduce the concept plan and get approval from the Metro Council this week. He anticipates that developers will return to the council with more details as the project moves forward.

Oubre described the development as one that “we believe is one of the most significant projects in the city.”

The River District, which will have components on both sides of the oak-lined Nicholson corridor, will include 100,000 square feet of commercial space, another 100,000 feet of office space, a hotel, 1,800 residential units and a public plaza facing the BREC-owned Magnolia Mound plantation.

Though Metro Council members didn’t comment before signing off on the plans Wednesday, city leaders have said they believe the development will be a catalyst for growth in Old South Baton Rouge and will tie into other plans for the area, including the proposed $45 million Water Campus coastal research center.

Anticipated growth in the area also has spurred leaders to study the feasibility of a streetcar line linking downtown and LSU’s campus.

In other action Wednesday, the Metro Council approved a change to the city-parish traditional neighborhood development ordinance.

Opponents of the change had argued it was meant to benefit the Rouzan development, which is expected to come back to the city-parish with a related request at a meeting next week.

“That’s where the problem arises, those two (changes) in combination with each other,” said Alex St. Amant, attorney for homeowners Daniel Hoover and Bob Welch, who opposed the change.

Metro Council members unanimously approved Wednesday’s measure, which drops a requirement that a developer prove his or her “control of the entire area” of a proposed TND in order to receive that zoning designation. Instead, a developer must now control all land included in the proposed zoning district. Rouzan’s TND zoning was ruled invalid after Hoover and Welch challenged it in court based on the now-eliminated provision, so Rouzan developer Tommy Spinoza is expected to seek TND rezoning again under the new terms.