How can a small suburban city foster sustainable growth with significant population increases are projected in the coming decades?
In 2011, the City of Walker began its first master planning process, despite being an incorporated municipality since 1909. The plan, “Blueprint of a City: A Community Vision for Walker, Louisiana,” was adopted on May 14, 2012. Unlike some communities lacking master plans, Walker does have its own zoning code independent of the parish’s code. Current zoning and subdivision regulations do not consistently reinforce the community’s vision and goals for the future, though the land use ordinances have in many ways promoted sprawl. Overall, development and growth has been under-regulated inside Walker city limits and in adjacent areas under the jurisdiction of Livingston Parish.
Community concerns identified during the master planning process were grouped into the following categories: growth management, traffic congestion and access management, infrastructure, parks and recreation, community character and enhancement. “Blueprint of a City” establishes priorities for the City of Walker based on the concerns of residents, businesses, civic groups, and public officials, developing a 20-year plan for sustainable and resilient growth. The plan includes specific recommendations related to community function, planning, and growth, organized hierarchically into goals, objects, and actions and initiatives. The city can adopt the actions and initiatives into policies, ordinances, or projects to implement the community’s vision of becoming “a clean, safe, and highly livable community where residents can enjoy the conveniences of the city without losing its small town character comprised of close-knit and family friendly people. Walker envisions achieving this by accommodating growth through progressive grassroots thinking, well-planned annexation, smart infrastructure investments, strategic business support, and sustainable and efficient capital improvements” (Blueprint of a City 2012).
Resilience Planning in Action
When Hurricanes Gustav, Ike, Rita, and Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, deficiencies in the physical infrastructure and operational organization of many Louisiana communities were exposed, including the City of Walker. Walker is threatened by a number of natural hazards, particularly tropical storms and hurricanes, but also floods and tornados (Livingston Parish Hazard Mitigation Plan 2009). Heavy rains and strong winds initially cause problems for Walker during storm events, but following recent major hurricanes, a different category of threat has affected the resiliency of the city. Walker has seen a steep increase in population as residents from communities further south, displaced and/or frustrated by frequent storms, have migrated north to the Baton Rouge area.
Walker is at risk from tropical storms and flooding, so the expansion of impervious surfaces following new development has led to increased stormwater runoff and its associated problems of localized flooding and water pollution. Approximately 70% of Walker lies in the FEMA designated 100-year floodplain and a smaller portion in the 500-year floodplain. Before the completion of I-12 in the 1970’s, water followed gravity, flowing northeast to southwest, towards the Amite River and into Lake Maurepas. The interstate, with only a few relatively small culverts, created a man-made barrier to natural drainage and exacerbated flooding problems in the area. The plan is comprehensive in examining Walker’s built environment, natural resources, and public services necessary for the city’s next 20 years of development. Aspects that the Walker plan related to resilience include a growth and annexation strategy, a proposal to develop a comprehensive stormwater drainage improvement plan, and extensive analysis of the city’s utility and transportation infrastructure.
- Storm Drainage Master Plan: Walker will prepare a city-wide Storm Drainage Master Plan in conjunction with Livingston Parish Gravity Drainage District Five to develop a long-range plan for improvements.
- Establishing a Capital Improvement Plan for drainage projects will aid in funding and constructing projects recommended in the plan.
- The city will require dedicated drainage servitudes for all new construction and establish a storm drainage tax for all property owners.
- The city proposes new provisions in zoning and subdivision regulations for Low Impact Development (LID), which uses site design techniques to store, infiltrate, evaporate, and detain runoff.
- New provisions will require the use of bio-retention areas and bio-swales in parking lots and along roadways to collect and hold stormwater, enhance recharge rates, and improve water quality.
- Incentives for density are encouraged to protect large tracts of natural resources, leaving them available for flood and drainage control and leaving less infrastructure for the city to maintain.
- Adoption of construction and post-construction Best Management Practices (BMPs) will also help reduce pollution and erosion.
- Adding incentives for private-sector development to meet established third-party green building standards will promote sustainability.
- New municipal buildings should be used as pilot projects and designed with innovative rainwater capture.
- Parks and greenways that serve environmental and recreation purposes: Establish a network of linear parks through property acquisition, conservation easements, and buffer requirements, that will protect sensitive natural environments, particularly creeks, preserve open space, and provide recreational opportunities to residents. The greenways will include water retention features and reduce flooding.
Walker’s master plan outlines many actions to remedy the effects of decades of sprawl and improve the city for current and future generations. To aid in the implementation of these actions, the master plan explains primary means of implementation and prioritizes recommendations in a Summary Action Plan. While the Summary Action Plan ranks priorities, identifies primary action items, and includes the plan references, it does not specify a specific time frame for implementing these actions or identify which city agency will be responsible for overseeing their completion. The master plan mandates regular amendments and updates to the plan and reviews of the city’s progress in implementation, allowing the document to remain relevant as the city grows and evolves.
- Update of zoning and subdivision regulations, or create a Unified Development Code, which will convert the actions and initiatives of the master plan into enforceable city ordinances.
- Create transportation plan
- Create Capital Improvements Plan
- Utilize the Growth and Annexation Plan to annex territory
- Develop a fiscal impact model to weigh the benefits of expansion,
- Conduct an annexation study to identify individual properties identified as primary annexation areas.
- City infrastructure and services will not be expanded unless developments strictly adhere to Walker’s Future Land Use and Thoroughfare Plans.
The character and appearance of Walker was a top concern of residents throughout the public planning process. The plan proposes the development of attractive greenways, streetscape improvements, investment in green space with landscaping and screening of parking lots, as well as signage ordinances.
- Update land use ordinances to promote the desired character of the community.
- Development of an evacuation and emergency preparedness disaster response policy and plan.
Coordinate with the state to build a dwell-purpose state evacuation center and community center in one of their parks.