The cover of the 2013 Master Plan

The cover of the 2013 Master Plan

Editor’s Note: The following editorial ran in the Sep. 28, 2014 edition of the News and discussed the necessity of land usage - read: zoning - in Livingston Parish. Recent discussion by the parish council regarding zoning brought this to mind, as it seemed appropriate for our time.

Nmatter what you call it — zoning, master plan, smart growth — seldom is regulating land use going to be easy or fun. If all affected parties could agree on a land use, nobody would need regulations. Livingston Parish needs them. The parish also needs them to be done right.

For starters, let’s get away from the natural tendency to procrastinate until some hot political conflict is on our doorstep. Then, let’s start listening to people who know something about the subject under study, whether it is how to write rational rules or how the activities to be regulated function in the real world. Avoid the temptation to foist unvetted laws on the world simply because it is obvious the government needs to “do something.”

It may be true the government of Livingston Parish needs to address the certainty that the population is on its way to doubling during most of our lifetimes. Yet doing the wrong thing is probably worse than doing nothing. As a doctor might say, “first do no harm.”

The need to study with open deliberations and due process respectful of all interests is not an open invitation to dally. Yet it is “slow, but steady that wins the race.”

Landowners don’t want to be told what to do with their property and business owners don’t want added costs tacked on. Residents who may have most of their assets invested in their homes do not want the sudden arrival on their doorstep of conflicting industrial, commercial or even multi-family complexes that can ruin the tranquility many thought they had bought when they moved here. When population density reaches a tipping point, both sides need to recognize that rules cannot be avoided and sound ones will be beneficial to all to provide certainty and clarity.

Once upon a time, Livingston Parish had no building codes. After they were enacted with much controversy, life as we know it didn’t end. Nor will it end with zoning.

A bigger issue right now is the general distrust in government by all sides. A process going forward that is inclusive rather than exclusive will be a big help.

Politicians hoping to modernize this parish need to be patient. Slow down, but don’t stop. Listen and ask questions. Don’t be too quick to shrug off answers that are not pleasant to hear. Previous leaders have worn themselves out with these heated, no-win battles and walked away from them, which is one reason we’re still on square one. Land use, an important debate, doesn’t need to be a battle. It needs to be an exercise in reasoning, accommodating, listening and communicating.

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