Vice President of the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority Mark Goodson is part of panel discussion at the Smart Growth summit downtown Tuesday that will delve into the issue of redeveloping neglected and abandoned properties.
The Redevelopment Authority says in 2009, East Baton Rouge Parish had some 6,500 adjudicated parcels of land. That’s somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of all the parcels in the parish. The Authority is currently conducting a study in tandem with the Center for Community Progress to bring that information up-to-date. The numbers, however, are projected to be similar.
Goodson says Baton Rouge should take a more robust approach to code enforcement to reduce blight like Atlanta, Portland, and even New Orleans already have.
GOODSON: We’ve seen that they have taken a pro-active approach to code enforcement meaning they actually have code inspectors out there driving the streets and citing people on the spot.
If the property owners continue to be irresponsible and won’t improve their property – fix their roof, cut the grass, whatever – then the city, as they do now, can do that for them. The difference is right now when the city-parish does that they place a lien on the property but nothing happens beyond that to enforce the lien.
So what those other communities have done is they’ve put the appropriate legislation and policies in place to be able to foreclose on that lien to say, “Okay, if you’re not going to pay the lien, well, then we can foreclose and we can ultimately take your property.”
And what we’ve seen in those other cities is that it becomes, one, a sustaining initiative because the fees generated from the fines is enough to pay for the efforts but also you a dramatic uptick in code enforcement solutions.
WESTERMAN: Are there particular areas in the city-parish that are the focus of redevelopment rather than other areas?
GOODSON: We, the Redevelopment Authority, one of our very first programs we called “Community Improvement Plans”. We did five neighborhood-scale redevelopment plans in areas that we looked at and saw had the highest concentrations for poverty and blight, and then we zeroed in on specific neighborhoods. That was in concert with FutureBR.
That plan took into account all the planning work that we had done and then sort of broadened it to say there are three real areas of focus for urban redevelopment: Old South Baton Rouge, the area between downtown and LSU; Mid-City, which is a large area between downtown and Airline Highway; and then North Baton Rouge, which encompasses Scotlandville, the airport, Zion City.
WESTERMAN: Talking about FutureBR, that plan specifically mentions constructing infill on two scales: large multi-phase projects and small, parcel-by-parcel projects. Is there a preference on how the parish would like to redevelop property?
GOODSON: Again, I can really only speak really from the Redevelopment Authority’s standpoint. No, I think they’re equally important. They’re just two difference scales of development, and I can give you some examples of what we’ve done.
So, we purchased earlier this year a large 200-acre tract that’s commonly known as Smiley Heights to do a large, what we’re calling urban village, mixed use development that will be anchored by a new workforce development charter high school as well as the new east campus for Baton Rouge Community College. That’s going to have a huge catalytic effect on the surrounding distressed areas. But just as important are the, you know, vacant lots in Scotlandville that we’ve been able to clean up and transfer or donate to Habitat for Humanity. They’re just different scales but you have to be able to adjust the type of investment to what the community needs and what’s realistic for the market.
WESTERMAN: Can you tell me a little bit about how infill and redeveloping these areas will fit into the overall plan of the development of Baton Rouge?
GOODSON: Yea. When you look at all of the issues that FutureBR tries to tackle – traffic, economic development, crime – a lot of that can be touched by urban redevelopment and infill.
So, you know, so much of our traffic stems from we’ve got a million people in the city of Baton Rouge and the population is 250,000 – that’s a lot of people driving in from somewhere else. If we can provide affordable and attractive residential opportunities within the city, that’s going to have a huge effect on how many people are driving in town and out of town, every day during rush hour. Showing people again the value of living in the city and making it as attractive to live, work and play is really, I think, the core message of FutureBR and what we’re all about.
WESTERMAN: Mark Goodson with the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority, thank you so much for speaking with me.
GOODSON: Thank you, my pleasure.