St. Tammany Parish is seeing the benefits and struggles of growth as it relates to the strong housing market. It is projected that the parish population will increase from the current 250,000 to approximately 460,000 by the year 2030. Many fear the growth will lead to a look of “Anywhere U.S.A.” with separate commercial and residential developments.
Not only do experts fear it will lead to a non-aesthetically pleasing look, but it will also lead to horrible traffic problems. St. Tammany is more susceptible to this problem because everyone living in the parish has to drive everywhere they want to go. The national average of trips made by people alone in a vehicle is 70% but in St. Tammany, it is 82%. With the growth and sprawling suburban expansion comes more roads being built, which will only increase the number and length of St. Tammany residents’ trips.
St. Tammany parish government and a company called Greater New Orleans Inc. are working towards a solution to struggles with a growing population. They sponsored a panel of experts from the Urban Land Institute (ULI), housed in Washington D.C., to study the parish as it relates to future development, land-use strategies and hardiness to flooding and hurricanes. According to panel Chairman Jim Heid, “the object was to provide objective and unbiased views on land use challenges.”
In a meeting held at the parish government complex north of Mandeville, the concept of a “village in the woods” was most favorable. This concept brings the residential and commercial land use together through a pedestrian friendly development that focuses on using the natural environment. This will give residents the choices of walking, bicycling or carpooling to destinations.
The panel recommended the development could potentially be located in the area between Interstate 12 and Louisiana 36 north of Lacombe, including Louisiana 1088 and 454. Fortunately the parish already has several areas to look upon as role models for this “village in the woods” concept. TerraBella located off Bootlegger Road in Covington, the planned development Tamanend, off of Louisiana 434 and downtown Covington already project this concept with their mixed-use development including apartments, single family houses, shops and other businesses.
Stakeholders are supportive of this concept and according to Alan Razak, a member of the panel, “strong political will and some risk taking” will be the only way this vision will come to fruition. Parish Planning Director Sidney Fontenot sees potential in other areas such as land north of Lacombe where the Northshore Technical Community College project is beginning and the Goodbee area located west of Covington.
To sum it up, the panel recommends that parish leaders update St. Tammany Parish’s comprehensive plan for the future by adding to the land with mixed-use developments. Fontenot states, “I think the next step is at what level do we go from allowing it, encouraging it to mandating it. That’s a major policy discussion for the elected officials in concert with input from the citizens.”