StrongTowns

LCG planners workshopping a way to score growth decisions by return on investment

The gist: A new tool in the works could help city planners and officials assess the cost and return of annexations or development to taxpayers. LCG’s planning department has included the concept in an RFP issued last week to solicit contractors to work on the PlanLafayette fifth-year amendment.

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Planning Director Danielle Breaux tells me the tool is about awareness. The “tool” — that’s pretty much government/consultant planner jargon for “method” or “rubric” — won’t set any hard-fast limits on what can or can’t be developed or annexed, but will assist officials in those decisions by giving a simple way of measuring or understanding the cost of growth. In 2017, consultants brought in by LCG estimated the average family would need to pay thousands more in taxes just to maintain existing roadways and drainage systems, a figure that doesn’t account for growth.

We need to find a way in this community of evaluating what’s coming through,” Breaux says. That means accounting for the costs of providing services like electricity, water, sewage and transportation to new developments permitted or annexed. Historically, officials have tended to look at income generated through property and sales taxes on new growth and development, without considering the cost to link up new neighborhoods or apartment complexes to city infrastructure. Lafayette is said to have a backlog of $97 million in roads and bridges projects alone.

How exactly this ROI tool will work is still undefined. Breaux hopes to develop something that won’t require a “staff of MBA number crunchers” to use. The key here is communicating the real cost of growth in a way that illuminates the net positives and negatives associated with growing outward or upward.

This is part and parcel *ahem* of firming up PlanLafayette’s guidelines. In particular, the land use map included in the comp plan intended to guide growth patterns in a way that curbs sprawl. That map has had little teeth, Breaux says, and is primarily conceptual in nature. In the fifth-year amendment process, PlanLafayette will revisit the action items put in place in 2014 and look to sharpen the plan’s implementation. Despite progress, planners say, Lafayette has a long way to go.

“Quite frankly, we have no zoning in the parish,” Planning Manager Cathie Gilbert says. “That is the number one thing that inhibits any true ability to manage land use.”

PlanLafayette’s monthly workshops continue May 22 with a session on Strategizing Economic Growth. You can sign up for the free day of workshops here. LCG will also release an Opportunity Zone prospectus and website designed to showcase Lafayette to capital investors looking to take advantage of the tax incentive program created by Congress in 2017.

Why this matters: Planning is not something Lafayette really ever did in the past, much less did very well. Looking at ROI on growth choices can give the public and officials something real to talk about when it comes to understanding the impact of growth on taxpayers. Not long ago, Lafayette was the poster child for a city underwater with infrastructure costs. In flood-prone Acadiana, unchecked growth remains a major public risk, as demonstrated in 2016.

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