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New Chamber of Commerce leader advances Smart Growth agenda

Lafayette General Medical Center's Chief Operating Officer Donna Landry officially takes the reigns of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce this Friday evening at the annual gala ceremony, and the agenda for 2006 is Smart Growth. Chamber board members, including myself, have been challenged to discuss carry-over initiatives ' like member benefits, I-49 completion, public schools, technology development, workforce preparation and infrastructure ' in terms of Smart Growth principles. Chamber members can learn more about the concept at the Building Community Conference in March, and the new Leadership Lafayette class will explore the model this year as well.

Landry has appointed two board members because of their Smart Growth smarts. UL professor Tom Sammons helped facilitate the broad-based community development plan called Lafayette in the Next Century, or LINC, several years ago. Landry wants to resurrect the plan as a roadmap for the city's future, noting that "many of the qualities of LINC embrace Smart Growth ideas." She also appointed John Barras, head of the local planning and zoning commission. "John emphasizes elective, not directive use of the concepts," Landry says, "because some things might not be palatable here." She cites ideas of mixed land use, more green space, less sprawl and walkable streets among the desirable tenets of the philosophy and higher-density development and zero lot lines as two that are potentially controversial. "This year the chamber leadership and members together will start learning more about this concept," she says. "Eventually we'll want to know, 'How do we embed some of the qualities of Smart Growth in our community?'"

The planning commission is asking the same question and is developing a Smart Code that will soon be presented to the Lafayette City-Parish Council for review.

Of all the Smart Growth principles, one stands out for a community like Lafayette Parish, where rapid growth is hampered by public resources already stretched too thin. Sprawling development requires sprawling infrastructure, which is very expensive. Public land use policies that foster compact development maximize tax dollars and result in sustainable, livable communities.

That was also the central message in The Independent Weekly's first Smart Growth lecture, which was held last March featuring William Hudnut, mayor of Chevy Chase, Md., and senior fellow with The Urban Land Institute. Plans for this year's lecture, which will also be in March, are now under way, just as the chamber discussion and the council debate begins. It's a healthy discourse that is important to Lafayette's future.

Two Gomez book signing events this weekend

Over the holidays Ron Gomez published a new book, titled Neat, a novel based in part on the life of his father. Gomez will sign books at two events this Saturday, Jan. 14, in Lafayette at Barnes & Noble from 2:30-4:30 p.m. and at Jefferson Street Market during Art Walk from 6-8 p.m. This is the third book written by the former legislator and media consultant.