Jefferson Parish’s subdivision code being rebuilt to bring

Jefferson Parish’s subdivision code being rebuilt to bring

Deon Roberts

Jefferson Parish’s archaic subdivision code is being demolished and rebuilt to bring regulations up to modern standards.

The new code aims to create mechanisms that guarantee subdivisions are built once they receive parish approval. The parish now has no power to ensure approved subdivisions are ever developed, which takes valuable land out of commerce.

There is also talk about taking away the power to approve subdivisions from the Parish Council and giving it to the Planning Department, although the council could still resolve disputes.

The parish is about three months into rewriting its subdivision code, and a two-step process for approving subdivision plans could be out in a year.

Overall, the parish wants to bring its subdivision code to standards other communities across the nation have long since adopted. Orleans Parish and other metro area parishes have more modern standards than Jefferson, said Ed J. Durabb, director of the Jefferson Parish Planning Department.

We are actually the odd man out in terms of having updated subdivision regulations, he said. Our subdivision ordinance was passed in 1958 and has essentially not been amended since then. It still refers to submittals on cloth. It has standards in it for barbed wire and all kinds of archaic things. And the whole subdivision ordinance is not structured in a way that it should be for a large urban area like Jefferson Parish.

Jefferson Parish is plagued with paper subdivisions in which lots were sold but the subdivision was never completed, leaving buyers with a piece of heavily wooded property or a lot that can’t be used because there are no streets or utilities.

The problems with paper subdivisions in Jefferson Parish are illustrated by the South New Orleans subdivision on the West Bank, a massive tract of land that was never developed.

About 80 years ago, the parish granted approval for South New Orleans on the west side of Manhattan Boulevard, roughly between Lapalco and Gretna boulevards. Streets, utilities and other infrastructure were never put in and the subdivision languished. Today, thousands of people own pieces of the subdivision but a lot of it is just heavily wooded and you can’t get to it, said planner Terri Wilkinson.

It’s a nightmare. There are some isolated residential uses in there, some trailers, some mobile homes … some squatters. People have used some of it as a dumping ground for their trash.

South New Orleans is a morass of ownership, she said.

Other paper subdivisions exist in Jefferson Parish although the Planning Department is not sure how many. But parish planners are certain of the need to guarantee approved subdivisions are actually built.

The parish is considering implementing a two-step process similar to processes in surrounding parishes, Durabb said. Before lots could be sold, the parish would require developers to complete public improvements or post a bond or another type of collateral before improvements are made, he said. A bond or collateral would create an incentive to finish the project and ensure that the parish would have some money to finish developing the land in the event the developer did not.

Most developers complete what they start, he said. But if a developer goes bankrupt, the parish could be left on the hook for improving the property, he said. The parish would also be protecting people who buy the property, he said.

Wilkinson said time limits could be placed on developers to finish subdivision improvements. While time limits and use of bonds are standard practices everywhere, Durabb said, not everyone thinks the bond is a good idea.

Tildon Dufrene, a land surveyor and civil engineer with Dufrene Surveying and Engineering in Harvey, said a bond would be an added cost to a developer to be passed on to the buyer. Overall, though, Dufrene backs modernization of the subdivision code.

So does Greg Lier, vice president of Rathborne Properties in Harvey.

A lot of things that are set out in the code are not really real world. It’s an attempt to make the thing more usable, more certain in terms of result, Lier said.

As for lingering paper subdivisions, Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts has asked the Planning Department and parish attorneys to research whether the parish can legally require unfinished subdivision plans to be brought back before the Parish Council for review. Roberts wants unfinished subdivisions to be re-evaluated to make sure they are compatible with parish standards. He also supports time limits for developers to complete their subdivisions.

Copyright 2004 Dolan Media Newswires

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