A Call for Height Restrictions on New Downtown Buildings

By: Stephanie Riegel  |  The Baton Rouge Business Report

Planning Director Frank Duke says new design guidelines being drafted for Baton Rouge should ideally include height restrictions for new downtown buildings. Duke says one of the biggest problems with the city’s existing zoning code is that it allows for unlimited building heights downtown.

“It creates the perception that there is unlimited value, which means you have a lot of surface parking because people are waiting for that right price, that great catch to come in, and it’s not going to happen,” Duke says. “Unlimited height does not increase development in a downtown area.”

Duke’s comments came Tuesday at a seminar on downtown zoning codes at the Louisiana Smart Growth Summit, which is being held through today at the Shaw Center for the Arts.  Zoning code issues, though technical in nature, are critical to good development and are particularly relevant in Baton Rouge right now. The city-parish is in the process of rewriting its Unified Development Code to create five distinct levels of design guidelines. Downtown will be designated as a level one, which is the most detailed and restrictive in terms of what is allowed.

“We need to have different standards that apply in different parts of the community,” Duke says. “What works in a rural setting will not work in a suburban setting. What works in a suburban setting will not work downtown.”

The Planning Commission will begin tackling the rewrite of the UDC next year. Among the issues it will address downtown are signage, landscaping, building placement, streetscapes, parking and building height.