The retirement of Planning Director Troy Bunch opens one of Baton Rouge’s most significant positions in city-parish government. It should be filled with a professional planner with the background and qualifications — as well as the vision — to advance the goals of smarter growth and sensible redevelopment of the parish’s inner city.
Those are big goals, but the dramatic changes in the landscape — no pun intended — of planning in the Baton Rouge area and in Louisiana include the traumatic aftermaths of big hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Gustav in 2008.
In Baton Rouge proper, the growth in suburban parishes and a need for regional instead of parochial planning is pushing officialdom toward more big-picture thinking: Planning issues and land-use concerns cross the arbitrary political jurisdictional lines of politics.
Technically, the planning director works for the city-parish Planning and Zoning Commission. That is not something that can be lightly passed over, for the commission and its staff must work intimately with developers, officials at various levels and citizen groups on matters that drill down to the level of what block is suitable for what structure.
Yet there is every reason to see this job as much bigger than the sum of the commission’s agenda every month.
The director should have the vision and leadership potential, as well as a competent staff, to work not only with the mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish but with fellow planners across the region, including the Metropolitan Planning Organization set up under federal law. And that does not begin to narrow the task list, as Baton Rouge’s ever-growing ties with the New Orleans metropolitan area require planners at both ends who can foster collaboration on diverse issues, including future inter-city commuter transit.
A big job, of great importance both within and without the parish boundaries.