The East Baton Rouge Metro Council has deferred a measure that would annex several unincorporated properties in the Willow Ridge neighborhood into Baton Rouge after a handful of homeowners raised concerns that it would lead to a confusing divide in the subdivision with some properties located in what could become the city of St. George.
If the measure were approved, Baton Rouge's city limits would extend to include 14 additional properties, as well as a portion of Willow Bay Drive and a triangular plot of private property east of the subdivision, both of which are needed to create a contiguous connection between several homes and the municipality.
Twenty-six other homeowners — including Willow Ridge's HOA president — are opposed to the annexation, and say it would lead to chaos and confusion around how municipal services are divvyed up in the 40-home subdivision.
The proposal will be reconsidered at the council's Oct. 28 meeting.
The Metro Council has approved several requests for annexation into Baton Rouge since last year, when the incorporation of the proposed city of St. George was put on hold pending a lawsuit filed by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and others. St. George's proponents have repeatedly argued the annexations are premature and could ultimately be reversed if the lawsuit comes out in their favor.
William Benedetto, a Willow Ridge resident who spearheaded the annexation petition, said his neighbors' concerns are unfounded and based on false information. He said he was against the proposed city of St. George, and said he simply wants to live in Baton Rouge, where he knows what to expect from municipal services.
"If they want to live in St. George, that's fine. … I'm not offended," Benedetto said.
Keith Richardson, the president of the Willow Ridge Homeowners Association, said the neighborhood's governing documents require that annexation requests are first approved by HOA, though an official with the Parish Attorney's Office said the city-parish Plan of Government supersedes any HOA bylaws.
Richardson also questioned how services like garbage collection and fire protection would be split within the subdivision, which is at the intersection of Bluebonnet Boulevard and Jefferson Highway.
"If I call 911 at night, who is going to come? The East Baton Rouge Sheriff or the Baton Rouge Police Department," Richardson said.
That line of questioning was echoed by Metro Council member Dwight Hudson, who said the annexation would create confusion for homeowners and the municipality alike over who is responsible for filling potholes in the neighborhood, or handling drainage and sewer issues.
"I just can't see the sense in us doing something like this, where we break up a neighborhood into individual little pieces, parts in the city, parts not," Hudson said.
Charles Landry, an attorney assisting those Willow Ridge homeowners seeking annexation, said the question of municipal services was just "an effort to try to deflect attention from what the facts and the laws are."
He noted that several other neighborhoods are similarly split, and pointed to the annexation of the Mall of Louisiana and Siegen Marketplace, which cut deep into the boundaries of the proposed city of St. George and are thinly connected to Baton Rouge by roadways or canals.
"The idea that this is going to create confusion is absurd," Landry said. "The property owners have an absolute right to do what they are doing."
Council member LaMont Cole, a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging St. George's incorporation, noted: "I recognize and understand the concerns relative to zigzagging the lines, writing some people in, drawing some people out, and how that potentially is going to be bad for Baton Rouge, but I got to be honest, some of the organizers of St. George did the exact same thing in terms of drawing some of the neighborhoods in and drawing some out to create the city, and so if it's bad for Baton Rouge it ought to be bad for St. George.
"If folks want to annex into the city (of Baton Rouge) because they don't want to live in a new city, I don't think we should stop them from doing so."
Council member Matt Watson said he favored deferring the measure so "everyone in the neighborhood can feel like they've had their voices heard." He was joined in deferring the measure by Cole, Chauna Banks, Erika Green, Donna Collins-Lewis, Denise Amoroso and Jen Racca.
Hudson, Scott Wilson and Trae Welch voted against the deferral and indicated they were against the annexation.