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Monday, Sept. 12, 2016

THE SHREVEPORT/CADDO UDC

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What is it and what is the fuss about?

The Unified Development Code is intended to combine the land development regulations of the city of Shreveport and Caddo Parish into one “simplified” and updated Code of Ordinances along with a new Zoning Map for the MPC’s jurisdictional area -– the city of Shreveport and five miles into the parish from the city limits (“planning area”).

Recently, the third draft of the UDC was released, and it will be the subject of two upcoming MPC public meetings. The first is Sept. 29 for presentation and public input; the second is Oct. 18 for public discussion and recommendation for adoption by both the Shreveport City Council and the Caddo Commission. Both meetings will be from 6-8 p.m. in the Council Chambers in Government Plaza. How helpful these meetings will be is a question for open conjuncture.

The goals of the UDC are many: implement the Shreveport-Caddo 2030 Master Plan; provide a user-friendly, predictable and consistent zoning/land use ordinances; integrate land use and urban design goals into objective standards; allow the majority of development to occur by right; respond creatively to market demand yet meet public expectations; and increase the transparency of development approval in effect, the UDC. The UDC is a new set of rules for development in the MPC Planning Area that regulates the use of land, contains standards for the size and location of structures and works to ensure the pattern of development into the future protects existing established neighborhoods, encourages a diversity of housing types and facilitates the growth of commercial, industrial and mixed-use developments.

For landowners and homeowners, the UDC determines how their property can/cannot be developed and after development, how the property can be used – both by “right,” which means without any approval and what requires MPC/Zoning Board of Appeals action.

The UDC is also designed to assist business owners with its intended user-friendly and streamlined application process, which is designed to be more predictable. The purposed new code sets standards to regulate the impact of certain “high interest” land uses – alcohol sales and consumption, live entertainment, multi-purpose centers, corner stores and residential conversions to business uses. It also changes the hours of business operations by uses, rather than zoning districts.

Accessory structures are addressed from the perspectives of detached structures (garages, sheds, fences) and the uses of the structures (storage, home occupations). The UDC updates the myriad of off-street parking standards as well as parking exemptions; it also includes comprehensive regulations for signs. Landscaping requirements are included for multi-family, mixed-use and nonresidential uses; standards are also provided for rights-of-way. Stormwater, which is becoming more and more a challenge in this area, is addressed by providing performance standards and community-based stormwater management shared between properties or new subdivisions.

As with any wholesale rewrite of several ordinances, there have been several questions and concerns raised by those residents who have the fortitude to wade through the comprehensive code. Zoning and land use are always hot buttons for those who say “any where but not in my back yard” or those who oppose any use of property for specified purposes. Some of the most debated and controversial hearings of the Shreveport City Council and the Caddo Commission have dealt with these cases which must balance the right of property owners to use their land with the competing interests of the surrounding occupants and the community at large. The UDC is designed to limit these controversies; some critics say that elimination of the elected officials – i.e., the council or the commission – from most of the appealable decisions goes too far.

Under the UDC site plans for new construction will be approved by the MPC executive director as part of a quick permit process without public notification or the opportunity for public input on the site plan. Proponents for this change cite several lawsuits that the city of Shreveport has lost in the past several years where an applicant filed a site plan that met the zoning conditions, which were denied. The courts consistently ruled that the council could not make final site plan decisions based on political considerations and that zoning ordinances and land use laws determined appropriate development. Thus the UDC allows site plan approval by the MPC staff to grant the appropriate land use when it meets the zoning conditions. In those instances where the proposed development is outside these standards, then the governing body can consider a zoning change, a variance or amendment of the permitted uses by right.

Public review and comments of the UDC are certainly needed; many political observers are concerned that this ground-breaking code is basically flying under the radar of public scrutiny much less the MPC board members and the members of the Caddo Commission and Shreveport City Council. No one can argue with the need to update zoning and land use regulations for the city and the five-mile area outside the city limits; as always the devil is in the details. If substantive complaints are not satisfied, then the battleground will shift to the council and the commission who both must approve the final version of the UDC. And even more of concern to many is the reality that the bugs that no doubt exist in the UDC and which will not come to light until after adoption and implementation will also require corrective action by both legislative bodies.

John E. Settle Jr. is an attorney who has practiced in Shreveport- Bossier since 1977. His columns have appeared in local publications for more than 15 years. He can be reached at 742-5513 or John@ settlelawfirm.com.

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