Redevelopment Authority reveals concept, but few details, for Smiley Heights project

Photo provided by staff

POSTED: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - 5:00am

UPDATED: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - 5:04am

The Smiley Heights development could transform the middle of Baton Rouge. But the designers say they need neighbors and potential stakeholders to help transform it.

Smiley Heights will occupy 200 acres in the middle of Baton Rouge. The land, on either side of Ardenwood, south of Greenwell Springs, is currently empty.

The East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority acquired the land in 2012, seeing it as the perfect canvas to create a new, modern neighborhood.

"We have a vision, we have a mission," said Walter Monsour, CEO of the RDA, "and now during this week, we intend to have meetings with all of you, the public, the stakeholders, the elected officials, to paint that vision and have you help us finish it."

The RDA has hired Lafayette firm Architects Southwest to help design the neighborhood, and they discussed the concept in general terms during a public meeting Monday evening.

ASW will hold meetings with neighborhood groups, emergency personnel, and politicians over the next few days to create the sketches that will ultimately become Smiley Heights.

"To begin visualizing your ideas three-dimensionally so that you can see what it is you're saying, we can see what it is you're saying, and hopefully, we understand you," said Steven Oubre of ASW.

Some details are already in place. The finished neighborhood will have roughly 1,000 homes, as well as parks, churches, and businesses. But the two anchors of the neighborhood will be two schools: a career academy from the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, and a 90,000 square foot, state-of-the-art auto mechanic training center under the operation of Baton Rouge Community College.

"The premise is that education will be networked into the neighborhood in general, it is not a standalone piece," Oubre stated.

"I can tell you (unequivocally) that this particular project brings to the table some pieces that probably only a handful of projects in the country have brought to the table."

The neighborhood will have smaller, narrower roads than most parts of town, and corner stores throughout, to encourage walking. Oubre said two thirds of the people likely to move into Smiley Heights are families with young children, while another quarter will be baby boomers. He said people will be able to walk from the edge of Smiley Heights to the center in five minutes, and pointed to studies showing that five minutes is an important length of time.

"If it's about a seven minute walk, (people) will drive it 50 percent of the time, and if it's a half-mile, they'll drive it 100 percent of the time," he claimed.

People had a few questions that could not be answered, such as how much land would go to housing, the cost to live there, and how the development would impact surrounding streets.

Some of those answers will depend on the input received during the next few days of meetings.

Oubre said he and his team would share the results of those meetings this Thursday at 6:00 p.m. at BREC headquarters, 6201 Florida Blvd. He will then have a first draft of the design for Smiley Heights to present at a meeting the following Thursday, September 26, which will also take place at BREC's offices.

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