A long-controversial subdivision cleared the Planning Commission by the skin of its teeth Monday evening.
The Lakes at Jones Creek, to be developed just northwest of the intersection of Jones Creek Road and Coursey Boulevard, secured the necessary five votes following a long and tense meeting.
As he read aloud the dozens of objections from residents who live near the proposed 425-home development, Chairman Jason Engen remarked that they likely set a record for opposition to a planned subdivision.
The Lakes at Jones Creek spun into a parish-wide concern after Metro Council member Buddy Amoroso got involved. Upon hearing from nearby residents terrified that the new development would push water onto their own houses, he directed city-parish staff to consider amendments to the parish floodplain ordinance. A draft should be ready by the end of this week for review, with a final version to be submitted to the Metro Council by February, Planning Director Frank Duke said Monday.
Amoroso also called for a temporary halt on all new construction in the floodplain, though the full council rejected that proposal.
Lakes at Jones Creek developer Steven Duplechain did voluntarily pull his application a few months ago to improve water retention. However, when it came up Monday, nearby homeowners associations turned out in force to say the design still doesn't offer them protection from floodwaters.
Even if the proposal meets the minimum requirements, "the rules are wrong," asserted M.E. Cormier, president of the Woodland Ridge Homeowners' Association.
"This area will flood again. It's a matter of how detrimental it will be to our houses."
Amoroso also opposed the project, saying he's thinking of what might happen to the people who were just inches away from flooding in 2016.
Duplechain pushed back against those assumptions. He said his plans go far beyond the city-parish's minimum requirements, and nearby residents will be better off with the new subdivision because it's designed to include many retention ponds and green spaces. Overall, more land would be removed than would be used to elevate buildings, such that the water flowing into Jones Creek would be reduced by 90 percent in a hundred-year storm. The development would nearly be able to handle all the water even in a 500-year flood, he said.
Two engineers — one a resident and another hired by homeowners — disputed the findings of the developer's engineers, both on technical grounds and by saying their models don't properly account for issues like storm water that originates off-site but flows through the subdivision.
Duplechain's engineers held firm on their assessments. City-parish floodplain manager Shannon Dupont also defended his decision to recommend approval of the project, remarking that he received a letter from the homeowners' engineer George Hudson but saw no reason to reverse his decision.
Hudson said the land could be developed without impacting nearby properties; he just didn't see all aspects being accounted for because the city-parish addresses some drainage as a project winds through the permit process, which follows the Planning Commission's vote.
Duplechain and his engineers said there are still some open-ended questions, like how various green spaces would ultimately look, but they had submitted everything the city-parish requires, which Duke confirmed. Their analysis shows the added green spaces and retention ponds would make the area safer in floods than if it were left undeveloped, Duplechain said.
"We do not intend or prepare to harm our neighbors," he said.
"We have proven scientifically that everyone will be better off. … That's the math."
Neighbors noted ways the land might be better used: parks, playgrounds, athletic fields and walking trails among them.
Commissioner and Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis rhetorically asked if they thought putting such restrictions on the land was fair to its owners.
She, Rossie Washington, Jayme Ellender, Clifford Grout and Todd Sterling voted to allow The Lakes at Jones Creek to proceed. Andy Allen, Rowdy Gaudet and April Hawthorne voted against it, and Engen abstained, citing a conflict of interest.