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Building Character, Convenience Essential To Downtown Lafayette’s Future

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Parking management and updated zoning codes will likely be the hot-button issues surrounding downtown Lafayette’s development, and all to facilitate one feature that downtown development consultants have deemed essential in creating a thriving urban center: charm.

“This is where character does matter,” said Downtown Development Authority CEO Nathan Norris at Tuesday’s Acadiana Press Club meeting.

Norris discussed the Downtown Action Plan, a proposal unveiled by the DDA last month that outlines a future focus for Lafayette’s urban center. An aspect known as the “Downtown Character Program” highlights convenience, vibrancy and “outdoor room” for the public as the core of a successful city environment.

Norris said setting a standard for how downtown looks and operates is necessary from an economic standpoint, as an engaging, efficient environment brings more people to the area — and in turn, more revenue to Lafayette.

But there are roadblocks. Currently, there are few options for housing downtown — which is another priority the DDA is tackling, Norris said — and for those who visit, limited parking is already a problem that’s costing the city.

"This is where character does matter."

“I think what’s important is that right now, there’s times during high demand where we’re not charging for (parking) at all,” said Geoff Dyer, director of design for the DDA.

Dyer and his colleagues are recommending supply-and-demand pricing that would increase during high-volume events, but the payment changes would happen alongside convenience upgrades, like credit-card-ready parking meters and sensors that link to smartphone apps to help patrons find parking more easily.

As for the zoning codes, which Norris said should be complete by the year’s end, those improvements could include guidelines that limit building heights so no sun is “stolen” from a neighbor. Thoughtfully planned storefronts with awnings or galleries that provide shade for pedestrians will be encouraged, and outdoor dining possibilities and increased park spaces will be a priority.

Norris noted that similar zoning regulations are already locally successful. Guidelines for mixed-use developments — like River Ranch — that offer housing, dining, business and retail within visually stimulating, walkable distances are planned so that developers can feel confident where they’re breaking ground, Norris said, while potential residents are lured by the advantages of urban living.

And the values of those developments, Norris added, could eventually increase pedestrian accessibility citywide, while also improving public transportation options — thus eventually easing traffic woes in the process.

“See, it’s all connected,” Norris said. “The character of the downtown feeds the abillity of us to have a strong transit system, ultimately, because if you’re not willing to walk a block or two, then it all falls apart.”

The Lafayette City-Parish Council will have to approve the codes before they’re set in place. Norris said the proposal could be finished as soon as August.

NEXT: INCREASING RESIDENTIAL OPPORTUNITIES IS DOWNTOWN LAFAYETTE'S PRIORITY

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