Street connectivity sometimes a balancing act

When the city-parish Planning Commission approved a north Baton Rouge home and town house project Tuesday night, the unanimous vote belied a conflict at the heart of planning the city-parish’s development.

Three residents from nearby Cypress Heights spoke up, not against the LaFleur Oaks development, but about their concerns that the eventual residents of the 176 units would clog their streets and drive too fast.

The development, as planned, would connect with three existing streets: Gibbens Road, Blount Road and Ashworth Drive.

The Cypress Heights residents asked if LaFleur Oaks could drop the Ashworth connection.

Taylor Gravois, the engineer speaking for developers Brian and Clement LaFleur, said they had no problem only connecting through two streets and dropping the connection to Ashworth.

Everyone’s happy, right?

Not so fast.

One of the major directives of the Planning Commission has always been to encourage connectivity because it improves traffic flow. And several commissioners felt reducing access just because the people in attendance were happy with it was the wrong way to go.

After Commissioners Darius Bonton and Sarah Holliday James motioned and seconded to approve LaFleur Oaks with just two entrances, Commissioner Martha Jane Tassin said she couldn’t vote in favor.

She said the horrible traffic along Jefferson Highway, for example, is largely due to the lack of connectivity of the subdivisions that line it.

“The one-way-in-one-way-outs are what makes Jefferson such a congested road,” she said. “We need to start looking at connectivity and start, whenever possible, making it a priority.”

Tassin told residents the Ashworth access would probably be the least used of the three.

Not wanting to see a good project die, Bonton and Holliday James motioned to defer the item and it carried, but then Commissioner John Price noted nothing would be substantially different in 30 days. The development had already been deferred once.

The board voted to reconsider the issue and gave LaFleur Oaks ‘concept plan approval 7-0 with two access points, allowing connectivity to bite the bullet in the name of not seeing a good project die.

After the meeting, Commissioner Laurie Marien said she really wanted as many connections as possible, but didn’t want to play a hand in killing a worthy new residential development in north Baton Rouge.