"Are you gonna tell someone they can't do a $5 million development project? What are you gonna do? Just say no? Yeah, that's it. Just say no! Ha ha ha!" That's the response I received from Tony Tramel, Lafayette's director of traffic and transportation, when I broached the subject of sprawl in a one-on-one conversation at a public meeting back in 2000. I was in no way confrontational or disrespectful to the man, yet he just laughed at me in my naive face. I was a member of that year's Leadership Lafayette class, and I learned a great deal about why Lafayette has "Growing Pains" (Jan. 17).
During my leadership class, we looked at cities thought of as well managed, like Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, and others that have used smart growth or some variation of strategic planning to improve their residents' quality of life. Despite all of the positive aspects of the developments in those cities, at the end of the day, the means of achieving those conditions (like Lincoln's aggressive zoning and development laws) were dismissed as liberal ideas and therefore "not gonna happen" in Lafayette. In City-Parish President Joey Durel's words, parish-wide zoning is "â?¦ probably not even worth talking about." Therein lays the problem.
Dr. Kam Movassaghi said, "It takes leadership," and I agree with that, but not in the form of deciding to pay more taxes to improve our roads. I think it takes leadership to open your mind and use proven methods to solve public problems. If a private entity is denied a permit for a development because it would create additional demand where the infrastructure is already insufficient, wouldn't that be in the public's best interest? I realize private demand is often ahead of public investment in infrastructure. In such cases, there should be conditional approval to allow new developments but require private funding of infrastructure improvements as part of the new developments. Otherwise, it takes the political will to insist that new developments are made where the infrastructure exists to support it.
We have a consolidated government, with departments of traffic and transportation, public works, planning, zoning and codes, and they are all vital functions of government. Parish-wide zoning, a comprehensive land use plan or some type of master plan for "smart growth" is definitely worth talking about if infrastructure is considered a factor in our quality of life in Lafayette. We need to employ our public resources in ways that serve the public's best interest. Sometimes that may mean you have to say no to somebody's big money deal, or we can just learn to live with growing pains.