The last time a "cluster subdivision" proposal came before the East Baton Rouge parish planning commission, the debate got so frustrating and personal that the parish started work to dismantle the program.
On Monday, the commission voted to simply delete references to cluster subdivisions from their ordinance. They're still technically possible to create, but now will have to go through the Metro Council as well as the Planning Commission.
Cluster subdivisions allow developers to build atypical neighborhoods by dividing their land. The residential portion could have a higher density of homes than would otherwise be allowed if the remaining area is left wild, ostensibly to protect the environment or otherwise care for the land.
The problem, Planning Director Frank Duke said, is that Baton Rouge has the worst such ordinance he's ever seen because it's "just so vague."
The city-parish has had cluster subdivision rules on the books for some 19 years, but very few proposals have ever come to fruition, and in recent years, they've always been denied, Duke said.
It creates a troublesome system "ripe for confusion and for lawsuits," said Metro Councilman Dwight Hudson, who attended the meeting to speak in support of deleting the ordinance.
The government has alternative ways to protect natural resources and other sensitive areas, and it doesn't need cluster subdivisions, said Nancy Curry, president of the Federation of Greater Baton Rouge Civic Associations.
In June, developers, residents and government officials debated — until they were "nauseous," one commissioner said at the time — Timber Ridge, a proposed cluster subdivision off Tiger Bend Road that would have included residences and property for a hunting club. The proposal did not pass, and planning staff began studying whether they could reform the parish's rules.
Before opening the floor to hours of debate Monday night, a member of the East Baton Rouge P…
Ultimately, staff determined the whole ordinance had to go.
"The existing provisions provide no standards to be used in determining the resources to be protected as a result of the clustering of density. … Staff remains concerned that the cluster provisions permit developers to bypass Metro Council in obtaining approvals that some might consider inconsistent with the density provisions of (the city-parish's comprehensive plan) FUTUREBR," they wrote in a report to the planning commissioners.
The commissioners on Monday unanimously and without debate struck the cluster subdivision rules from the city-parish's ordinances.
Developers can still propose neighborhoods that look like cluster subdivisions, but now, they won't have any special protection and will have to seek approval from both the planning commission and the Metro Council, Duke said.