Unless you are Rip Van Winkle, every reader should be aware of the long simmering fuss over the operations of the Shreveport Caddo Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC).
The building community has been up in arms for quite some time on the difficulties encountered with the Shreveport MPC, especially when compared to its counterpart in Bossier. Many say its an obstacle course in Shreveport versus a cake walk on the east side of the river.
For starter, MPC Executive Director Mark Sweeney initially closed his office from noon to 1 p.m. each day. Lights out, doors locked and phone on answering machine. Do much for being “business friendly.” After media pressure, including from this writer, Sweeney began keeping his office open during the lunch hour.
Sweeney orchestrated the development and adoption of Shreveport’s Unified Development Code (UDC). The goal was to combine building and zoning requirements in an easy-to-follow format.
The result has been adoption of a complex labyrinth of requirements for property development. The building community reports that Shreveport’s uniform development code is expensive and difficult to comply with because its requirements are more suitable for Palm Springs than Shreveport.
And to top it off, Sweeney and his staff have a well-deserved reputation of being non-responsive and difficult to work with.
The MPC’s jurisdiction is all the property within the city limits and the four miles outside the city boundaries.
The MPC is funded by the City of Shreveport to the tune of $800,000 a year. The city also provides free office space and accounting service.
The parish contributes $200,000 per year.
As an independent agency, the MPC does not report to either the Shreveport City Council or the Caddo Parish Commission. Its nine member board is appointed by the city and parish officials.
Sweeney has five loyal board members who would walk with him into shark infested waters. The other four board member would push Sweeney and his followers into the brink.
Shreveport City Councilman James Flurry has introduced an ordinance to bring MPC operations into city governement. If enacted the city would have a planning office that addresses property within the city limits. Council probably will vote on the Flurry ordinance on May 8.
Flurry believes an internal office would provide accountability to the Council. He also believes there would be a substantial cost savings. The MPC payroll for 16 employees exceeds $900,000.
The Bossier MPC office has five employees and it handles almost as much work as the Shreveport MPC.
Several Caddo Commissioners are unhappy with the MPC, especially Mario Chavez and Lyndon Johnson. Chavez made the motion to reduce parish MPC funding thid year by $20,000.
Both Chavez and Johnson have advocated reducing the MPC’s jurisdiction to one mile outside the city limits. An internal planning office for the parish has also been discussed, as well as contracting with the proposed city planning office for the limited number of parish permits
The Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce recently held a town hall meeting to discuss the MPC’s operations and the Shreveport Uniform Development Code. More than 100 members of the architect and building community attended, and those speaking were consistent in their criticism of both the UDC and the MPC office staff.
Chamber Executive Director Tim Magner presented to the group an eight-page summary of over 50 suggested changes in the UDC and enforcement by MPC staff. The UDC has been amended many times by the Shreveport City Council. Amending it takes a long time.
It was suggested that the MPC staff could, much like its Bossier counterpart, be more flexible in their interpretation of the UDC standards. Magner announced that a second town hall meeting would be held in May.
As is his practice, Sweeney has refused to make public comments on the chambers’ recommendations or any of the controvesy surrounding his office. He has an employment contract that ends in October of this year. (He is the only public official in Northwest Louisiana with a contract, ehich are virtually non-exitent in the public sector.)
Realistically speaking the Chamber’s efforts will probably be fruitless in the sense of effectuating real change, especially in the foreseeable future. Shreveport is saddled with an over-the-top regulatory code orchestrated by Sweeney that is also enforced in a dictatorial style by Sweeney. In other words, the Shreveport UDC is Sweeney and Sweeney is the Shreveport UDC.
Mayor Ollie Tyler has refused to take a position on Flurry’s effort to make the MPC a city department. Many believe that this is another failure in her leadership.
Tyler nominated the last appointed MPC member, Curtis Joseph, to whom Tyler awarded substantial city legal work in her first months in office. One of Joseph’s first key votes was to extend Sweeney’s contract. He is one of the five “bonded at the hip” Sweeney supporters.
Joseph is one of the three principals, along with MPC Board Chairman Theron Jackson, in Gateway Development Consortium LLC, which has proposed a $1 billion development of Cross Bayou that would require a substantial city investment plus multiple building permit and zoning approvals from the MPC.
The best course of action is for the council to vote for an internal MPC office. This change would take several months to effectuate, and the sooner the process is started the better.