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Community Agenda 2019

Lafayette passed a complete streets policy 

▸ The gist: Snuck in among some more contentious items on last week’s agenda, a complete streets policy for LCG was formally adopted by the City-Parish Council. The resolution aligns local transportation policy with state and regional codes and will guide transportation and development efforts to include more bike, pedestrian and transit access.

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▸ What’s a complete street?A complete street is a thoroughfare that provides equal access to all modes of transportation. To wit: LCG’s own complete streets vision: The desired outcome of the Complete Streets Policy is to create an equitable, balanced and effective transportation system where every roadway user can travel safely and comfortably, and where transportation options are available to everyone.

Proponents view complete streets policies as a means of refocusing city development on people instead of cars. Transportation projects designed to meet complete street guidelines include facilities for bike riders, pedestrians and transit passengers from the get go, rather than as retrofits. Complete streets policies have proliferated in the last two decades. The National Complete Streets Coalition boasts 1,200 complete streets policies adopted nationwide (I briefly worked for Smart Growth America, the parent organization for NCSC). Both DOTD and the Lafayette Metropolitan Planning Organization have complete streets policies on the books. 

Lafayette’s efforts to add bike lanes and pedestrian facilities to roadways have not been without controversy. Bike lane projects on W. Bayou Parkway and Moss Street spurred grassroots opposition among nearby constituents. For opponents, accommodating bike traffic is a waste of money that should go to widening or fixing existing roadways. 

One important component in the LCG policy is its emphasis on creating a linked network. Today, Lafayette’s bike and pedestrian pathways are laid out in often baffling and dangerous scatterplots. A policy framework to connect a piecemeal network would, theoretically, increase use and help ease car traffic. People aren’t going to bike if they can’t bike anywhere safely and conveniently.

▸ OK. Bike lanes. I get it. What’s the big deal? Over time, a complete streets policy in Lafayette could be transformative. PlanLafayette, Lafayette’s comprehensive plan, already includes some complete streets language, but a formally adopted policy drives the philosophy deep into the asphalt. The language in LCG’s policy directs inter-agency cooperation among LUS, Public Works, and Development and Planning and emphasizes early inclusion of active transportation facilities — the wonky catchall term for bike lanes, sidewalks and transit lines — in projects across consolidated government’s jurisdiction.

Like anything else, though, this is about money. Aligning with the MPO’s and DOTD’s complete streets policies can expedite projects that meet the guidelines and requirements spelled out by those organizations. Melanie Bordelon, the Lafayette MPO manager, says complete streets projects will score higher in the regional planning agency’s rating system, meaning roadway projects that include bike lanes or sidewalks and so on could be prioritized. That would potentially give LCG projects an edge in competing for federal and state dollars distributed by the MPO. 

“It helps to ensure that we also look at pedestrian, bicycle and transit users as projects are developed,” Bordelon says. “That’s not always been true in the past.” 

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Geoff Dyer to resign his post as CEO of the Downtown Development Authority 

 The gist: Dyer announced Tuesday that he will officially leave DDA this August to take a private sector job in Calgary, Canada. DDA will also fill three board vacancies at that time. 

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▸ Why this matters: Downtown Lafayette has struggled to build momentum over the last decade, but not for any lack of effort or expense. Dyer succeeded Nathan Norris — who actually recruited Dyer to Lafayette during his time as CEO — after Norris resigned in 2016, holding the post for 16 months, beginning first as an interim CEO and easing his way into the position without much fanfare. Dyer continued to pursue an urbanist approach to Downtown development. He played a key role in lobbying for changes to the district’s bar moratorium and recently won council approval to introduce streetside dining Downtown. DDA Board Chairman Pat Trahan says he is disappointed but not shocked by Dyer’s departure, saying that Dyer is a talent in high demand nationally.

“It can seem a little disconcerting,” Trahan says. “At the same time, we’ve got a Downtown Action Plan that’s well thought out and a new zoning code that makes a lot of sense.”

▸ The rule of threes: Dyer is the third urbanist-minded talent to leave a politically influential development post for greener pastures. Former LCG Development and Planning Director Carlee Alm-LaBar officially began her new job at Southern Lifestyle Development this week, ending her eight-year run in consolidated government. One Acadiana’s Harry Weiss, who ran the chamber’s urban revitalization efforts, took a public sector job in Oregon. Different circumstances influenced each departure, but it’s hard not to read the cluster of resignations as something of a trend, and a dismaying one at that. Agree or disagree with their work, Dyer, Alm-LaBar and Weiss were the kind of dynamic, forward-thinking leaders that just years ago were attracted to positions of influence in Lafayette. Lafayette’s magnetism appears to be waning. 

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What to watch for: Downtown leadership turnover. DDA will seat three new board members and a new CEO. Trahan, Donald Broussard and Bryant Poché will term out on the board this August. The search for a new CEO could straddle the board changeover. That’s a challenge or an opportunity, depending on how you look at it. New blood could invigorate the organization with the energy needed to finally unfreeze Downtown’s residential development deadlock. 

“We need to be able to push through and usher in some development,” Trahan says. “That’s one of the reasons the old federal courthouse is so important.” 

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An impassioned appeal failed to stop a controversial car dealership project in a flood-prone neighborhood 

▸ The gist: Residents in a neighborhood hard hit in the 2016 floods appealed the approval of plats for a new car dealership parking lot that cuts deep into a mostly residential area. Despite an emotional plea, the City-Parish Council denied the appeal.

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▸ A little background: The site in question was rezoned in January, on recommendation of the city’s planning department, from agricultural to commercial heavy to allow the project to go forward. Tuesday’s appeal targeted approval of the project’s preliminary and final plats. Exasperated, residents of the Canberra neighborhood described the long shot appeal as their last stand.

▸ What’s the big deal? Canberra residents report that stormwaters have risen in the last decade or so due to rapid development, in particular several car dealerships that have popped up along south Johnston Street and South City Parkway. The primary concern is that a new parking lot — reportedly seven acres of new concrete — will overmatch the area’s drainage coulee, which residents say can’t handle any more runoff. It is odd that the development got the green light given the widespread recognition of the relationship between expanding concrete and Lafayette’s drainage problems. Beyond drainage, they say the lot will be a nuisance, an eyesore and will tank property values. “Will you buy my house?” a resident shouted at the council from the back row.

▸ A stunning silence: After hearing testimony from enraged residents for an hour, the council sat in a loud silence. A vote requires a motion, and reluctance to make one in the face of seething anger settled on the councilmen. Councilman William Theriot awkwardly broke the spell, set the vote in motion and cast the only vote in support of the appeal. Residents applauded him and castigated Liz Hebert, their district representative.

▸ What to watch for: This still isn’t quite over. Developer Fabre Realty will next produce a drainage impact analysis to be approved by the city. A wrinkle in this story is that the developer faces new drainage regulations that require the lot to reduce runoff rate in the area by 15 percent of the pre-development rate, not an easy feat for seven acres of concrete. Earlier this year, the developer told The Advocate that he didn’t yet know how much it would cost to comply with the new drainage regs. The lot represents a test of the city’s regulatory approach to solving the ongoing drainage crisis.

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Robideaux sought to avoid a ‘public spectacle’ in selecting an old federal courthouse developer

▸ The gist: Last week, The Advocate broke the news that Mayor Joel Robideaux chose a team led by developer Jim Poche to redevelop the long-vacant old federal courthouse Downtown. Robideaux’s choice and the decision to forego a public process raised some eyebrows, but other applicants and stakeholders say there was nothing unseemly about the decision. ▸ Some background: Five teams applied for the project, […]

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Unpacked

What the self-storage boom says about us and the things we won’t let go.

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