East Baton Rouge's planning commissioners defer vote on Timber Ridge development amid intense opposition _lowres

 

The Planning Commission deferred voting Monday on the creation of a subdivision in the southeastern part of the parish after more than 100 people in opposition packed City Hall for a three-hour debate.

The neighborhood, called Timber Ridge, would feature 281 lots on 68 acres east of South Tiger Bend Road and south of Babin Lane. The development as a whole, started by developer Arthur Lancaster, would be 478 acres, with 410 of those acres left as a preservation area.

But the preservation area plans include a hunting club and areas that would be off-limits to the residents who live there. Around 26 acres of the site would fall in the flood zone.

While the preservation areas would protect wetlands and wildlife, the development’s engineer, Mickey Robertson, said the 68 acres where houses would be built would be cleared of all trees.

Timber Ridge also is being called a cluster development, where houses generally are grouped together in one area while there’s protected green space or conservation areas in another spot. The city-parish’s planning staff had recommended approval of the development, saying it is consistent with the city-parish’s master plan.

A passionate group of residents in nearby neighborhoods The Lake at White Oak, The Meadows and other subdivisions presented their opposition to the Planning Commission with some 40 speakers. Many worried about the effect the subdivision would have on the environment, flooding and traffic.

Much of the discussion was scientific and detailed, with arguments about the locations of geological fault lines and the animal species and tree species that inhabit the area.

Their worries were enough to sway Planning Commissioner John Price, who said he could not support the subdivision after being deeply troubled by some of the changes in the development plan. He said he also was worried about traffic, drainage and environmental problems associated with the development.

Price was the only one of the six planning commissioners in attendance who voted against the deferral, saying he did not believe extra time would resolve the underlying problems with the development.

Barry Toups, one of many who spoke in opposition, said the plans for the development were drawn up “much like a gerrymandered legislative district.” He and others took issue with the claims that Timber Ridge is a cluster subdivision, and said it seems more like a traditional subdivision with the name “cluster” slapped on it.

Robertson, the engineer, rebutted those claims.

“Cluster developments are meant to be organic,” he said. “They’re not all meant to look the same.”

Some neighbors also wondered how the new development would affect their quality of life.

“It changes the character of an existing, older, vibrant residential neighborhood in Baton Rouge,” Steve Marks said.

The private hunting club also irritated many of those who spoke against it, saying it is a sham to call the “preservation area” anything other than a hunting club.

“Since the purpose is to preserve the natural qualities of the environment, there will be no activities programmed into the area,” reads a site analysis and environmental resource summary. “However, this area will continue to function as a private hunting club. The community will greatly benefit from the scenic views of the property, the buffer that it provides from surrounding areas, and the peace of mind in knowing that the property will never be developed in the future.”

Before the meeting, Rachele Smith sent an opposition letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

“We believe wetlands destruction will occur based on the developer’s plan, which first calls for the clear-cutting of an urban forest and an unnatural expansion to an existing water site,” she wrote. “This expansion, we contend, is being done to forestall documented flooding in the area which we were able to obtain.”