An important component to PlanLafayette, the Unified Development Code will guide our city’s critical future growth.
We are so fortunate to live in Acadiana, a bustling area that has, so far, maintained its smalltown feel. This is in large part thanks to our friendly people, jovial culture and, of course, unparalleled food. It is not surprising people want to live here and businesses want to come here. In fact, the population of Lafayette Parish has nearly tripled since 1960, with no slowdown in sight. By some predictions, Lafayette is expected to grow by an astonishing 90,000 people in the next two decades. Based on this, and Lafayette’s other accolades, such as its healthy economy and past recognition as the Happiest City, it seems as if Lafayette is heading in the right direction. Why would we change anything? Because, there is a better way of achieving the desired result.
In Lafayette, the problem is obviously not in those qualities that make it desirable, but in the challenges created by a burgeoning population, including where these extra people will live and work, and how they will get there. In preparing for anticipated growth and the associated problems, Lafayette city officials have
been proactively implementing new policies governing future development. In July 2014, after months of community input and expert analysis, the City- Parish Council adopted a comprehensive plan, dubbed PlanLafayette. The nearly 200-page document broadly expresses the vision for Lafayette in 2035 and outlines specific goals and action plans for achieving a more ideal city.
According to PlanLafayette, the underlying purpose is to promote the “preferred growth scenario,” which “reverses the trend of spreading out in a disconnected fashion, and instead focuses growth and development in mixed-use centers and corridors with greater access to transit, jobs, walkable neighborhoods, and parks and recreation.” In short, the plan encourages nodes (or concentrated areas) of development, with more efficient and diverse modes of transportation between and within each.
A key element to the success of PlanLafayette is implementation of better policies and regulations governing land use — how property owners are permitted to develop their properties to conform with the preferred method of growth established by the plan. While PlanLafayette has officially been effective for several months, the work is just beginning. Lafayette officials, namely former chief development officer and now Public Works Director Kevin Blanchard and current CDO Carlee Alm-Labar, have been working closely with consultants (including Mark White and Wallace Roberts & Todd) and others to develop the city’s first Unified Development Code.
As its name suggests, the UDC will “consolidate land development regulations, integrate standards and procedures, and streamline the review process needed for new development,” according to PlanLafayette. If the council adopts the UDC in May 2015 (when it is tentatively scheduled to be presented for final approval), it will replace the quagmire of zoning ordinances, permit requirements and often antiquated regulations through which developers must now navigate before commencing any development or improvement.
In a way, the UDC is a complete overhaul of Lafayette’s planning and zoning rules, but its development did not begin from scratch. In fact, some aspects of the prior zoning scheme were meshed into the proposed UDC. The best aspects of the current regulations were utilized, in conjunction with modern planning principles, to create a comprehensive set of regulations that perfectly complements PlanLafayette. Indeed, establishment of the UDC was part of LCG’s contract to develop PlanLafayette, and it is intended to be the next logical step after implementation of the plan.
The UDC is certainly a big change for Lafayette, but it is a smart change in response to recognized problems of urban sprawl, unbearable traffic congestion and other issues caused by increased populations confined to limited space. Unlike other dramatic modifi cations, which can be diffi cult to accept for those skilled in the old ways, the UDC is a dynamic change. Unlike traditional zoning ordinances, the UDC will not foreclose development that does not rigidly conform to hyper-technicalities. Rather, the new code aims to encourage any development in line with PlanLafayette (itself a flexible plan subject to annual review), the ultimate dynamic change endorsed by the residents of Lafayette.
Chances are, you are not a developer and have no plans to become one. Nevertheless, you might be a property owner. Or, you might begin to notice more mixed-use developments with better sidewalks, bike paths and open spaces. So, while you may not ever have to review the technical provisions and regulations of the proposed UDC, the consequences preparing the city for sustainable growth are important for those who care about Lafayette’s future.
To some developers (especially the unscrupulous), the UDC may seem to complicate development, because of its detailed and meticulous provisions governing every aspect of development (such as lot and building dimensions, utilities, etc.). To the contrary, the UDC is intended to streamline development. A developer need only visit its pages to determine what and how he is permitted to build or improve in any particular location. This is a tremendous improvement over regulations currently in place, which require developers to decipher different sources for building and lot requirements, utilities provisions and other prerequisites scattered throughout the city’s ordinances.
Some developers may also be concerned that new requirements imposed by the UDC will unnecessarily increase the costs of development. For instance, the UDC will require new residential developments to be equipped with enclosed drainage of higher capacity at greater costs to developers. In response, Blanchard and Alm-Labar explain this is simply a reallocation of expenses from the taxpayers to the developers (who can pass on increased costs to customers). Under the current regulations, developers need only supply drainage services suffi cient to meet the needs of their development, but as neighborhoods expand and mingle, the infrastructure becomes inadequate, and the taxpayers are burdened with the responsibility of mitigating resulting problems. Provisions of the UDC should address such issues at the outset of development.
Even if you are not a developer, you should be aware of how the UDC will change your own slice of the city. One of the most dramatic changes contemplated by the UDC is a complete reclassification of all land within the parish. The UDC establishes 12 new zoning districts, ranging from agricultural to public/institutional.
Signifi cantly (and especially in conformance with Plan- Lafayette), the UDC includes particular provisions intended to encourage proposed mixed-use developments (which include residential, commercial and common areas in one location). There are specific provisions for “residential mixed,” “mixed use neighborhood,” “mixed use center” and so on. How your property is classified determines what can be done on your property. (Most provisions of the proposed UDC are available at LCG’s website, lafayettela.gov/comprehensiveplan.)
Perhaps one of the more progressive changes is the new classification for “planned development,” which allows development which does not otherwise meet the other zoning standards, but is nonetheless consistent with PlanLafayette or a strong public need. By providing provisions for planned developments, the UDC infuses a certain degree of fl exibility which ensures ideal developments in line with our growth model are not prohibited by rigid rules.
If the council adopts the UDC in May, expect to see notifi cation shortly thereafter that your property (or all property) is subject to re-zoning. You should not be concerned, but instead excited that our city is undergoing a dynamic change for the better. We are one step closer to achieving, as the PlanLafayette vision statement says, we are “one of the nation’s most exceptional communities, renowned for its rich Cajun and Creole heritage, its creative scene and culture of innovation, and its authentic ‘joie de vivre.’ Fueled by its desirable quality of life, its highly educated workforce and the community’s entrepreneurial spirit, Lafayette has attracted substantial investment and growth. This growth has been managed and absorbed in a manner that allowed Lafayette to retain its small town neighborliness and unique way of life.”
Hallie P. Coreil is an attorney at Briney, Foret & Corry, where she practices general casualty and municipal liability litigation, with a particular interest in land use planning issues. She is also a licensed Realtor (through Realty Executives Select). She welcomes comments emailed to Coreil@ brineyforet.com.