Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus, but sometimes he gets his Christmas list messed up and lumps of coal are delivered rather than gifts.. Such may be case with the much ballyhooed Unified Development Code (UDC) that was adopted by the City of Shreveport this spring and recently by the Parish Commission.
The UDC is a combination zoning and development ordinance that not only classifies (and in some instances reclassifies) the uses for real estate and includes building and subdivision regulations. The UDC applies to all property within the city limits of Shreveport and the 5 mile area adjoining the city limits that is in the Parish. The city's version and the parish version of the UDC are slightly different, but for the most part are the same.
The total costs for developing and implementing the UDC was over $500,000 and the costs were shared by the City and the Parish on an 80-20 basis. The Shreveport Caddo Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) is the governmental agency that regulates the UDC. The City contributes over a million dollars to the MPC and handles at no charge the MPC finances. The Parish pays approximately two hundred grand to the MPC. Government Plaza is owned by the City and the Parish; the MPC has rent free offices in this building.
One of the major selling points for adoption of the UDC was to bring Shreveport and the Parish into the twenty-first century as far as zoning and building regulations by combining all of the existing ordinances into one new code that was "modern" ands reflective of current development standards and land uses. Many comparisons were made to Bossier City that has had a unified development code for years; Bossier's ordinance was cited as the primary reason many businesses go across the river.
The UDC was also promoted as being a simple and easy to read code that would benefit private citizens and businesses alike And that is the case IF one likes to peruse a three hundred page plus ordinance that is over three inches of paper that fills up a large, as in very large, three ring notebook. And as far as different types of land uses, the UDC has a whopping 120 plus property use classifications that fill up 3 oversize sheets (11 inches by 17 inches). And add to that the UDC has over 30 zoning categories.
And to top it off, the zoning maps that were adopted as a part of the UDC have changed the possible uses of many properties. In other words, some property uses that were "legal" under the old zoning ordinances are now "illegal" under the UDC. Reportedly a large area south of the downtown airport has now been zoned as "green space", which is a very limiting classification compared to its previous zoning. MPC Director Mark Sweeney, who is not known for being the poster child for sharing information, has advised that his office does not have a list of properties that have been reclassified by the UDC to have fewer authorized uses than under the previous zoning classifications.
For those property owners that suddenly have lost value in their property by the more restrictive allowable uses under the UDC there are limited options for relief. The first would be an effort to have the UDC zoning matrix and zoning maps amended; this would require action by the City Council for property in the Shreveport city limits and for property in the parish by the Caddo Commission. If an amendment was passed then it would sent to the MPC Board for a vote, and then back to the governing body. Unfortunately the UDC did not provide for a limited window for easier modification of the zoning maps and the use matrix.
Another option could be litigation, based on a claim of a "taking" of property by government action. Rather than a forced transfer of ownership of property by expropriation (like for a highway or a public facility), the "taking" would be a loss of economic value because of the change in permitted uses of the property. Needless to say, litigation can be expected if property owners can prove that the reclassification of their property and the permitted uses cause them economic harm.
Sweeney's response is that this is too bad too sad; Sweeny says there was plenty of time for the public to review the proposed zoning maps, the proposed property classifications and the zoning matrix of permitted uses. Much like the still unexplained closure of the MPC from noon to 1 pm everyday, Sweeney rules that MPC much like a kingdom in that he can set the rules with no requirement to be accountable to the citizens or for that matter the Council and the Commission who fund his office. If ever there is a governmental tail wagging the property owner dog, Sweeney the UDC and the MPC set the bar for governmental arrogance and non accountability.
The word to the wise would be to quickly check the zoning maps and the zoning matrix to determine both the property classification (zoning) of one's real estate , especially undeveloped property, as well as the now permitted uses; these may be substantially different in the sense of much more restrictive than the prior zoning. One could say that the cow is out of the barn, but the sooner the discovery is made the better.