Before opening the floor to hours of debate Monday night, a member of the East Baton Rouge Planning Commission threw on the brakes.
Residents, developers and commissioners have already talked ad nauseam about the potential Timber Ridge cluster development off South Tiger Bend Road, John Price said. The conversation has become so convoluted and contentious that Planning Director Frank Duke said he began to question taking a job in Baton Rouge.
So before hearing any more debate, Price called for the vote — and the commission defeated the proposed development.
Drainage, traffic, environmental conservation, geographical fault lines, philosophical differences on development — all had been dissected in the hours-long May commission meeting and meetings that followed after the matter was deferred.
“I’m nauseous from thinking about Timber Ridge,” Price said as the first of at least 34 speakers lined up Monday to voice their opposition to the proposed development.
“My mind has not changed. I’m ready to vote,” he told his fellow commissioners.
Price made clear he was preparing to vote against the 476-acre development. Such a decision was contrary to the recommendation of the city-parish’s planning staff, including Duke.
But the director made clear that commissioners are allowed, even invited, to follow their own interpretation of the city’s rules and vote against his recommendations.
“You are more than welcome to overturn (my recommendation),” Duke said.
In fact, he remarked with frustration that an unnamed person had said the commission must follow his lead, which he said is “simply not true.” The whole ordeal led him to question whether taking the helm at planning was even a good choice.
At the meeting, Duke also sternly corrected the developer’s engineer when the man “misquoted” him about a particular aspect of the plans for the land abutting the Amite River.
While Duke was in favor of Timber Ridge, Price said he did not believe the proposed subdivision followed the letter or the spirit of the law on cluster developments.
Such neighborhoods allow developers to pack a group of homes densely into one portion of land while allowing the rest to go undeveloped. Price said they can be used to promote creative neighborhood designs or protect nature, but Timber Ridge appeared to use the cluster demarcation to skirt regular residential density rules and build a typical 281-lot suburban neighborhood.
Developer Arthur Lancaster had intended to use the remaining 410 acres as a preservation site, which a private club would be able to hunt at.
Commissioner Clifford Grout asked a series of pointed questions on whether residents of the proposed neighborhood would have any access to the preservation and hunting area, and engineer Mickey Robertson indicated they would not.
Ultimately, Grout said he believed the subdivision worked as a cluster development but voted against the plan after hearing that the open space would be restricted from residents.
The rest of the commissioners — minus absent members Jason Engen and Gregory DuCote — also voted against Timber Ridge, and the proposal failed unanimously.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.