Is Lafayette’s development code working? 

Housing development under construction with dirt covering sidewalks and no trees in sight
Developers and residents alike say Lafayette’s codes let down both groups by causing heartburn for residents and giving false hope to builders.   Photo by Robin May

Lafayette’s zoning and planning rules are supposed to make life easier. In theory, the Lafayette Development Code sets clear rules on what can be built where, outlining a roadmap for development. 

But recent disputes between neighbors and developers have shown that both groups are often surprised, and frustrated, by what local rules allow. The conflict, often playing out in packed public meetings, complicates how Lafayette can address burgeoning development issues, among them making room for growth and development within the city’s urban core.

Earlier this month, two proposed residential subdivisions that generally aligned with local rules were shot down over concerns from unhappy neighbors. And neighbors resisted plans to redevelop the old Chase bank building into a gas station on University Avenue near the Four Corners intersection, leading a local judge to overrule the City Council’s rejection of the project at the behest of public opposition. 

The Glomax battle became emblematic of the dissatisfaction found on all sides of the debate. Developers and residents alike say Lafayette’s codes let down both groups by causing heartburn for residents and giving false hope to builders.  

“The whole premise was that [the development code] was supposed to make life so much easier for developers and the people that own property,” says nearby resident Stephanie Cornay, who opposed the development. “It was supposed to be so much simpler, and actually, it should be. But we keep trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.”

The project’s developer, Glomax, LLC, bought the property in 2022 expecting to convert it into a gas station, which its zoning allowed. But dozens of neighbors opposed the gas station plan, arguing it would be an obnoxious addition to the adjoining residential area regardless of whether the code recognized their concerns. 

Residents ultimately pushed the City Council to reject the idea, effectively locking Glomax out of any other plans for the property in the process. That led Glomax to successfully sue to force the council to reconsider the project, which remains pending

“The [development code] is kind of a promise made to developers. … So if you go in and agree to do those things and still get turned down, it definitely is a hindrance to development because it makes developers shy away from proposing projects,” says Billeaud Companies President and CEO Steven Hebert, who serves on the City Planning & Zoning Commission. 

The Glomax battle is one of several cases of developers and neighbors butting heads over what projects should be allowed where. Chad Ortte, the broker for one project’s landowner, highlighted the neighbors’ power at the council’s Jan. 9 meeting by pointing out its disparate treatment of a similar rezoning. 

Y’all just all voted for RM-1 [residential mixed-use] … and it’s done for the previous ordinance,” he said. “Why is this one being scrutinized more than the other one y’all just voted for?” 

The answer to Ortte’s question is often public outcry. 

The council’s frequent deference to neighbors, compounded with provisions of the code itself, often puts these development decisions at odds with Lafayette’s comprehensive plan, which envisions more growth in the city’s urban core. Fewer neighbors generally means less political risk for a project, making sprawled-out development in flood-prone rural areas more attractive than building in Lafayette’s populated urban core. That hinders the city’s ability to promote economic growth and to meet its growing need for affordable housing options by adding a difficult layer of political risk to developments near existing residents.

“Denser infill development that we need so badly within the city, really in the core of the city, is so difficult because you just get pounded regardless of how good a developer you are or how good of a project you’re doing,” says Hebert. “If you’re putting in more dense housing within existing neighborhoods, certainly there’s going to be people who come out and just give you a hard time. It’s a painful process.”

Finding solutions that improve the code’s value for both developers and residents is a challenge, particularly since any changes to the code would have to be approved by the City Council. “All you could do is bite around the edges, kind of like what [former Mayor-President] Josh [Guillory] did,” says Hebert, referencing Guillory’s attempted overhaul of the code in 2020. 

But despite the difficulty, making the code a true mediator between builders and residents should be a priority for the recently-elected council members and new Mayor-President Monique Blanco Boulet, says Oaklawn resident Gisele Menard, who helped organize neighbors to oppose the Glomax project. 

“I see them as needing to be the ones to actually get the discussion going to figure out a plan. … I hope that we can figure out a way to have the same outcome without alienating people,” she says.