The late humorist Will Rogers coined the phrase “I never met a man I didn’t like,” but he probably would have reconsidered had someone zoned his property.
Zoning does not win huge rounds of applause and ticker-tape parades for public officials, something the Livingston Parish Council knows very well.
Landowners understandably enjoy the added flexibility. If they want to run their own business behind their house, they can do it more often than not. If they want to raise chickens, they can enjoy the farm-fresh eggs which come as the perk.
Zoning is a matter that has reared its head several times over the years, and with reluctance for discussion among parish officials.
Not all council members oppose zoning, though all agree it should come slowly and be well-calculated, which makes sense. A careful strategy saves plenty of time, heartache and money down the line.
As for now, however, the council wants to leave well enough alone, particularly when they’re already facing the challenges of post-flood life in the parish.
Discussion of a firing range in Springfield did not trigger a discussion on zoning, largely because the request itself did not pertain to normal zoning issues.
A firing range near a residential neighborhood obviously draws concern from residents, as it did for the homeowners along Hutchinson Road in Springfield. They packed the Parish Council Chamber in November to voice opposition to the proposal by Jay Foster for a range roughly two miles from their homes.
Hutchinson Road is one of those areas where kids can still ride their bikes, map out trails in wooded areas and do many things that others cannot do in areas adjacent to busy roadways. It’s also a quiet area where residents can escape from the noise they endure in the suburbs and urban areas.
It didn’t mean they wanted a firing range. They considered it a threat to the quality of life in terms of noise and, quite obviously, safety.
Foster maintained it was perfectly safe and would not impose upon the peaceful rural life residents enjoy along Hutchinson Road.
Parish Council members agreed with the homeowners. They denied approval of the facility based on the current regulations, which do not outline noise issues or specify distance from structures other than residential dwellings. The Ordinance Committee spent the last three months jotting proposed revisions to legislation which will come up for full council approval after a public hearing at the March 23 meeting.
It all makes sense, but it once again brings up a question of whether the entire turn of events could have been avoided if the parish had zoning laws.
“Zoning” may have six letters, but it’s a four-letter word for many Livingston Parish residents. Many residents consider it a perk of rural or suburban life when government does not specifically outline what can go where – to some degree – and what a homeowner can do with his or her property.
The flip side comes when residents learn of a developer who wants to do something less than what they consider desirable nearby. A gravel pit in Watson exemplified what happens without zoning, and the same thing essentially happened with the firing range.
Nothing against a firing range, but is that what we consider the vision of the classic American residential area? Think about it … a church, a school, a corner grocery, a gas station, a firing range. It doesn’t sound right, does it? One could only imagine it in a Norman Rockwell painting.
But it’s the result of a resistance to zoning. The fights against zoning are not limited to Livingston, either.
It remains a fight in Ascension Parish. One of the more publicized fights transpired in 2000 when Prairieville residents kicked and screamed over the construction of a Walmart on what was then a largely desolate area at the corner of Perkins Road and Airline Highway.
Many of the residents left Baton Rouge for the better schools and the peace and quiet. But when residents come, so do businesses.
They petitioned the Parish Council to put the brakes on a permit for Walmart, claiming it would hamper drainage and add to unwanted congestion.
The lack of zoning squashed their fight quickly. Seventeen years later, the Perkins-Airline interchange ranks with Range Avenue, La. 447, Siegen Lane and College Drive as one of the most congested areas in the Greater Baton Rouge area.
Eventually, another developer will bring forth a plan that will likely raise the ire of residents in a particular area in Livingston Parish. The firing range was an easy target, which did not spark discussion on zoning, but the zoning issue will not go away.
It will likely surface again, but it will not come through an issue such as a firing range, which made it easy to dodge the bullet.
Zoning may not make some council members the most popular folks in the parish, but it may also make life easier in the long run.