It’s no wonder the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wants to make its restrictions and requirements tougher.
Currently, Livingston Parish has leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars in grants with FEMA to fund hazard mitigation, disaster preparedness, and overall recovery from the Great Flood of 2016.
While a number like $450,000 may not seem large, relatively speaking, it’s still the amount of the grant award from FEMA to create the parish’s original Master Plan.
The “comprehensive master plan” titled “Envision Livingston” was passed by resolution on May 23, 2019. As has become commonplace these days, it’s important to reiterate the note that “resolutions” are non-binding agreements.
Basically – the Livingston Parish Council in 2013 passed the master plan because it felt like it had to do something, considering several hundred-thousand dollars and dozens of meetings went into the makings of the document.
Or maybe it was a way for certain members of the council to give themselves an out?
Not five minutes after the plan was adopted, then-Councilman Ronnie Sharp (District 8) made a motion that individual districts and wards should have the option to pass their own zoning laws – if any.
That motion didn’t carry after four votes declined it, which came mostly from members of the western side of the parish and included Councilman Chance Parent, of District 1.
Here’s a clip from Michael Dowty’s Livingston Parish News story from 2013, which shows John Ware (chairman of the Master Plan Steering Committee) explaining why he believed individual zoning districts was a bad move:
“Ware argued that voters already have a say in planning because they get to elect and unelect their Council representatives and received ample opportunity to give input for the plan at numerous meetings over the past year.
“ ‘I say the people have spoken or had a chance to speak all this time,’ Ware said.”
That’s a pretty cheeky take, considering that the chairman of the steering committee should have known that Sharp’s exact proposal was baked into the Master Plan.
Initially, Envision Livingston was focused solely on the “Economic Corridor” that encompassed an area in and around Interstate 12 – roughly 1 mile to the north and south of the interstate, including U.S. 190 – for zoning and infrastructure improvements.
It said this about individual wards, which is item 2 of the “land use” implementation process:
“Create a process of ‘self-determination,’ organized by sub-areas, for the remainder of the parish to determine the extent to which they wish to adopt regulations to increase predictability of future development. Individual subareas should be given a reasonable time (say 2 years) to undertake the subarea self-determination process (modify their plan, decide on zoning). If a subarea fails to take any ‘self-determination’ action, the parish may continue to use the Anticipated Land Use Map as a guide for decision-making, and consider adopting zoning.”
Perhaps the reason for the split and failure of the motion was political, and that almost makes it worse. Maybe there needed to be an amendment to make sure the economic corridor was left out?
Either way, the western side of the parish would have gotten what it wanted – zoning – while the eastern side could have paved its own way.
Why was that a problem? It’s exactly what the Parish Council has proposed this time, with Councilman Tracy Girlinghouse (District 7) explaining that he will pursue zoning in the pieces of his district that don’t have it.
So, no, there’s absolutely no reason to start over and create an entirely new Master Plan. Does the current plan need updating? Yes, but the original plan has several paths of implementation for all of its pieces – land use, drainage, roads, water, sewer, emergency preparedness, and coastal management.
And those implementation plans were guidelines, not actual rules, to quote a movie.
Engineers and plan updates were written into the guide itself, as the original creators knew that the parish was changing – rapidly.
The original Master Plan even said that a parish planner would have to be hired.
The parish didn’t have the money at the time? So, parish employment is at the same level as it was in 2013, when sales taxes have grown to nearly $5 million more per year?
In almost all cases the most difficult part of any plan is starting. In this case it’s better late than never, because all of the focal points of the Master Plan Envision Livingston are still talking points today.
The worst part? They were talking about these things in the 1990s.
And the 2000s.
It’s time to take action, and adopting a plan that’s already paid for and moving forward is better than chucking more money at a reboot that’s going to tell us the exact same thing.
J. McHugh David is editor and publisher of the Livingston Parish News.