The “New Urbanist” development paradigm was established in Louisiana with Lafayette’s River Ranch and has since spawned a growing trend throughout the state.
For Teche Ridge — New Iberia’s future version of River Ranch — the ongoing attempt to make dirt fly has been equally, if not more, difficult.
River Ranch architect Steve Oubre, of Lafayette-based Architects Southwest, said it’s normal for “urbanist projects,” or Traditional Neighborhood Designs, like Teche Ridge and River Ranch, to take longer than traditional residential and commercial development projects.
While Oubre’s firm is engaged in seven TND projects in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas, he said there are more than 10 TND’s that are either developed or in the process of being developed in Louisiana.
Teche Ridge is designed to merge residential and commercial zones into one miniaturized “walkable community” on 100 acres at the corner of Old Jeanerette Road and Emile Verret Road. The actual development phase of Teche Ridge has been pending for about four years, but Oubre said it took about one year to acquire the nearly 100 zoning ordinance variances from the Lafayette Consolidated Government before the River Ranch development was allowed to get under way.
Since overcoming several zoning ordinance obstacles with the Iberia Parish Council — the most recent in 2009 — the only thing standing between Teche Ridge and development is financing.
“River Ranch was done at a time when the market was getting solid,” Oubre said. “We’re in a very different market today, but Teche Ridge is moving at a rate that’s commensurate with all the TND’s we’re doing.”
Oubre said once complete, Teche Ridge will be a neighborhood that offers residents a range of homes of varying prices and styles within walking distance of restaurants, a variety of shops, a medical clinic and even a bank — Community First, which is already in operation at the corner of the development site.
The planning phase for Teche Ridge kicked off in 2006, to which Lorna Bourg, executive director of Southern Mutual Help Association and the project’s developer, said she credits the lag in transitioning to the development phase to the “meltdown” of financial markets nationwide.
“Many banks are not deploying the money they have,” Bourg said.
Bourg said Southern Mutual is in the process of obtaining the $4 million needed to finance the development of Teche Ridge’s basic infrastructure, such as sewerage and roadways.
“We’re in the process of negotiating with a number of parties for financing,” she said.
Yet, Bourg and Southern Mutual have are steadfast and recently received a $25,000 grant from JP Morgan Chase Foundation for Teche Ridge, along with two leads for potential financiers for the project.
Bourg said if an agreement is signed with the financial partners that she declined to name, the development phase of Teche Ridge could get under way in March or April, but she added, if other leads are pursued, it could be summer before the project begins.