St. Charles Parish Government hosted its second ‘Let’s Take Care of Business’ meeting Tuesday, Nov. 7 at the Professional Learning Center on Highway 90, seeking input from parish business owners regarding zoning changes it is planning for the parish’s Highway 90 business corridor.
Numerous business owners attended the meeting along with several parish officials and consultants hired by St. Charles Parish.
St. Charles Parish officials are seeking to establish what is known as an overlay district for four miles of property running along Highway 90 in the Boutte and Luling areas, a stretch of highway that makes up arguably the parish’s most visible commercial corridor for visitors and residents.
Overlay districts are areas where local governments add additional requirements or modify requirements for pre-existing zoning areas. The idea behind them is to create design standards for buildings, landscaping and signage so that over time, the property owners within the overlay district eventually adopt a more usable, cleaner and visually appealing look for visitors and residents. The changes can help enhance property values and encourage residents and visitors to use the area more frequently.
Foremost on business owners’ minds at the meeting was when they would be required to implement these changes and the cost of the changes. Local business owners at the meeting noted many of the proposed changes, such as changing signage out, adding new building facades, or improving parking – could quickly become expensive.
St. Charles Parish officials at the meeting said they are currently exploring ways to help incentive business owners to perform the improvements, such as potentially offering temporary tax freezes for a period of time.
“Part of what we want to do is to kind of give some sort of incentive – and we’re looking at ways to give some incentive opportunities to existing businesses to make these improvements,” Parish President Matthew Jewell said.
Similar overlay districts have been used as an urban planning tool in numerous United States cities like Milwaukee, Wis, Philadelphia, Penn. and in nearby areas like Jefferson Parish. Over time, Jefferson Parish successfully used an overlay district to help convert the look and feel of the popular commercial area along Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
St. Charles Parish hired consulting firm NY Associates to assess the Highway 90 corridor to better understand how an overlay district could best be implemented.
Some of the suggestions brought up by NY Associates included tighter signage size and location requirements along Highway 90, building façade requirements for new development, along with additional lighting, landscaping, drainage and parking changes for Highway 90.
Officials said current business owners along the Highway 90 corridor are expected to be ‘grandfathered’ in and would not be required to make any of the new changes until a new policy ‘trigger’ event such as a substantial renovation, new development or change in ownership occurs. The exact triggers of what will require business owners to comply with the new regulations have not yet been decided upon by parish officials.
Jewell said at the meeting he hopes to further develop and then implement the new overlay district regulations sometime in 2024.
St. Charles Parish has already completed a portion of its three-phase plan of clearing out overgrown areas along Highway 90 between the highway and the railroad. Once complete, Jewell said at the meeting the parish may later add drainage or landscaping improvements to the cleared area as part of the overall Highway 90 overlay district plan.
“We’re committed to continuing that [beautification and clearing] project – it does take a lot of man hours, it does take a lot of crew and equipment to [complete],” Jewell said at the meeting, commenting that parish workers are taking a pause on the project while they attend to addressing other areas before returning back to the clearing work in the coming months. “I think it does look a lot better – we’ve gotten a lot of compliments from residents.”