LIVINGSTON – A Livingston Parish councilman urged fellow members to strongly consider better planning and land use requirements for a portion of the parish.
A discussion on zoning – traditionally considered taboo among council members – needs to come to the forefront for the parish to move past protests from residents on what should or should not locate in their neighborhoods and subdivisions, Councilman Tracy Girlinghouse said.
Girlinghouse, who represents District 7, made his comments during a meeting of the Livingston Parish Ordinance Committee, held prior to the full council’s 8-1 vote to accept preliminary plats for the Starwood Knoll multifamily development.
“I’m a firm believer that zoning is necessary,” said Girlinghouse, who covers the Walker municipality and areas north. “It’s needed for certain parts of the parish – and I know the eastern portion is not a big fan – but I believe in District 7 that it’s necessary, we’re way past time for it.”
Girlinghouse wants the parish to revisit the Master Plan to kick start a move toward an expansion of zoning, particularly in the western part of the parish.
The zoning would cover outlying areas of Denham Springs and Walker – both of which have zoning inside the corporate limits – and all of Watson, an unincorporated area of more than 26,000 residents.
“I would like to form a master plan committee to go over the already approved master plan and go over it, make sure it’s up to date and get in line with the things we want to take and go forward,” he said.
“This is one of those preliminary discussions not for tonight or next week, but (the parish council) want(s) to study this, figure it out and get something together for some time in the future where we can say 'that makes sense' and we can move forward.”
The council approved the preliminary plats for Starwood Knoll despite concerns from residents over traffic, drainage, and sewer issues.
The lack of zoning laws to specifically address what to allow in a subdivision has left the council no authority on the issue – and puts members at the risk of a lawsuit if they block developments that have already passed muster with the Livingston Parish Planning Commission.
“The lack of zoning in this parish is the foundation for the failure of the infrastructure,” Girlinghouse. “If we had zoning... we have no avenue to do anything – you can’t keep commercial developments out of a residential area.”
Traffic impact, drainage, and sewer issues are the only impediments that can block development under the current landscape if appropriate documentation can be produced. In the case of Starwood Knoll, concerns were levied and developer Garry Lewis returned with a new plan and paperwork, meeting the council's requirements and leaving them with two choices - legal action or approval.
“Zoning would help us determine what’s proper for an area or not proper,” he said. “If you’re the average person who owns a house and goes to work every day, there’s no reason you should be against zoning.”
Discussion of zoning is not new to the parish. A proposal failed in a parish wide vote in 1988.
The Master Plan’s roots date back to the administration of former Livingston Parish President Mike Grimmer, when the parish qualified for $491,000 in federal grants in 2009 to develop a land use master plan to address growth in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The parish adopted the plan in May 2013, one year after current Parish President Layton Ricks took office.
The issue hit a snag the very night the council adopted the plan. Members voted 4-4 to accept the plan, but then-Councilman Ronnie Sharp – who represented the eastern part of the parish – proposed a plan that would allow votes in each district to pass judgment on their own zoning laws.
The vote died when then-Councilman Ricky Goff abstained to seek more information.
The vote hinged on geographic lines, with representatives on the south and eastern areas agreeing to Sharp’s proposal, while those in the northern and western areas of the parish opposed it.
The issue has barely surfaced during the current administration.