East Baton Rouge’s planning director says he’s ready for people to be disappointed with the revised building rules he’s set to propose in the wake of the flood disaster of 2016.
Planning Director Frank Duke was tasked after the flood with re-examining local rules intended to ensure that new construction and development doesn’t expose people to flood risk. City-parish staff have submitted their revised rules to the Metro Council, which is scheduled to discuss and vote on the changes on March 14.
"Do I think anyone is going to be happy with it? No," Duke said in a recent interview.
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He and Director of Development Carey Chauvin said they lack the data to make sweeping changes to the city's ordinances. More information should be coming in over the next year or two but, for now, the changes are about 90 percent cleaning up garbled language, Duke said.
A copy provided to The Advocate shows mostly minor clarifications, grammatical improvements and updated formatting.
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There are a few more substantive edits, Duke said, often enshrining practices that had been taken for granted but are now written down. These include holding mobile homes to the same elevation requirements as houses and demanding that building additions not be allowed to displace water onto a neighboring property, he said.
Chauvin said it's all planning officials feel like they can do until they have more data.
The Metro Council on Wednesday defeated a proposal to temporarily cease new construction in the high-risk floodplain in East Baton Rouge.
The city-parish has hired an engineering firm to create a storm water master plan which will have several applications, including to serve as a guide for floodplain ordinance revisions.
Transportation and Drainage director Fred Raiford said hopes by the end of the year to have enough modeling to start recommending areas to consider updating. The entire plan probably won't be finished until mid- to late-2019, he said.
Until more information comes in, Duke will wait. The planning director said he knows people are worried about their flood exposure and looking for a long-term solution, but he also doesn't want to over-correct, since 2016 was such a statistical anomaly.
"I don't have data, so anything I do is a guess," he said.
In the past week, Metro Council members said they have not yet had a chance to thoroughly examine the floodplain ordinance — a dense and technical document — to comment on the proposed revisions.
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Some groups involved in the effort, though, have already voiced their displeasure.
The Federation of Greater Baton Rouge Civic Associations wants a board of professional engineers to review drainage issues and advise local politicians.
"There's no one on the Metro Council that's qualified" to evaluate engineering proposals, said Nancy Curry, president of the civic association group.
The city-parish has engineers and planners on staff, but Curry said an outside board might be more experienced and appropriate for the task. The Federation has not yet determined out how such a board might work.
A citizen appeals board could possibly work, Duke allowed, but if they tried to review every plan that comes through the city-parish it would grind development to a halt.
The local Sierra Club chapter, meanwhile, is pessimistic that the city-parish will ever enact meaningful measures to safeguard people and their property.
Following the lead of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, East Baton Rouge determines who's at higher and lower flood risk based on the so-called 100-year-floodplain. That binary delineation has been criticized, including by Sierra Club member Willie Fontenot.
Building more nuanced risk data is an essential step for work that will follow, he said.
"Whatever they propose is going to be totally inadequate," Fontenot said.
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