Southdowns Zoning Dispute

Posted on October 11, 2012


futurebrSouthdowns zoning dispute called ‘test case’ for FuturEBR


If you don’t live in the Southdowns neighborhood, you might be inclined to write off the controversy over a requested zoning change for the property at Perkins Road and Stuart Avenue as just another neighborhood land-use dispute.

But the impending showdown between property owner Ben Skillman and the neighborhood is about so much more: namely, how seriously the city-parish is going to take its new, $1 million land-use plan, FuturEBR, and how much weight the plan will carry in deciding land-use issues moving forward.

“This is going to serve as a model of how we look at FuturEBR and how we interpret it,” predicts Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who also serves as a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Planning Commission.

Wicker and her fellow commissioners will get their first crack at the issue Monday night. They were originally scheduled to take up the matter in August, but Skillman withdrew his request in hopes of working out a compromise with the neighborhood. In the two months since, the dispute has only become more contentious. St. Aloysius Church Parish, which abuts the property in question, is actively opposing Skillman’s request, and Southdowns residents are vowing to fight, too.

The problem, they say, is Skillman wants to rezone his property from residential to ISPUD—a zoning category unique to Baton Rouge that allows for exceptions to the zoning code in certain instances of small, infill development. His request would also require an amendment to the map of FuturEBR.

Southdowns is almost all residential on the south side of Perkins Road, though there are some notable exceptions that still make residents cringe—a tattoo parlor, for example, and a quickie po-boy shop. The map of FuturEBR appears to call for keeping that side of Perkins residential, including Skillman’s 1.3-acre lot. A Future Land Use map shows the entire south side of Perkins shaded yellow, for residential neighborhood, with just a handful of golden-colored lots zoned compact neighborhood.

The bigger issue, though, according to some Southdowns residents, is the underlying reason for the requested change: Skillman is trying to sell his property to a pair of psychiatrists who need the ISPUD designation so they can use the property for their medical office.

“You’re talking about a single, private property owner getting an amendment to FuturEBR so he can sell his property in a depressed real estate market,” says Walker Delaune, a Southdowns resident opposed to the change.

Skillman’s attorney, Randy Roussel, counters that while the future land-use map of FuturEBR suggests residential zoning for the property, the corner on which it sits is across Perkins Road from some of the busiest commercial establishments in the area, including bars, restaurants, a gas station and a convenience store. What’s more, he says, the language of FuturEBR is clear that the map can be amended to reflect surrounding land use—and he argues that the land surrounding Skillman’s property is not used for single-family homes but for CC’s Coffee, Sonic and Benny’s B-Qwik.

“If you go through and read FuturEBR, it shows these lines are not drawn in the sand,” Roussel says. “That one page makes clear that the map should be liberally amended based on a more detailed analysis of sites.”

By Stephanie Riegel Baton Rouge Business Report
Published Oct 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm (Updated Oct 11, 2012)
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