It's not likely leaders in East Baton Rouge Parish will give in to residents' demands for a moratorium on development — at least not any time soon. 

City-parish leaders instead are hopeful an array of infrastructure-related projects, a new batch of which began Thursday, will address the drainage issues that have caused the too-frequent flooding fueling the public's pleas for a temporary halt on new construction. 

That doesn't mean East Baton Rouge won't take a cue from leaders in neighboring parishes who've already adopted short-term stops on new developments while they work on improvements to their drainage systems. Most Metro Council members The Advocate spoke with Thursday believe they won't make that kind of decision until they have enough time to weigh all the facts surrounding such a move. 

"I'm having a lot of trouble working through the very serious negative consequences people aren't taking into consideration," said Councilman Dwight Hudson. "I want to make sure everyone is looking at the full picture before we move forward." 

The Metro Council was bombarded Wednesday night by a push for a moratorium from residents — a discussion prompted by Councilwoman Chauna Banks, who proposed neighborhood-specific moratoriums for subdivisions that wanted them. 

Banks said Thursday the discourse was productive and has pushed her to seek additional data on the parish's flood zones, the city-parish's current stormwater management projects and policy initiatives around home-building. 

"I do see some important agenda item that will address a moratorium being brought up for a vote, (but) this is a big decision," she said. "It has economic implications. At the same token, we cannot continue to make unwise decisions when it comes to approving development when it's so obvious there is an issue."

The Metro Council doesn't meet again until July 28, making it the earliest leaders could even introduce a proposed moratorium.

In the meantime, the more than $20 million in new drainage projects being funded through the federal government's American Rescue Plan kicked off Thursday with crews cleaning out a storm drain at the intersection of Jefferson Highway and Chelsea Drive. The city-parish is using the ARP funds to do channel-clearing and grubbing, roadside ditch cleaning and cave-in repairs and various engineering and project management throughout the city-parish. 

That work is in addition to the $225 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects involving upgrades to five of the parish's major tributaries and all the hydrology data that's being culled together for the comprehensive Stormwater Master Plan currently happening.  

Councilwoman Laurie Adams, who represents a district that has repeatedly flooded in recent years, was at the site Thursday morning to witness the new drainage work being done. 

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"When they took the top off the storm drain, I was shocked to see what was under there," she said. "Just grass, leaves and sediment that had turned to concrete. It gave me hope that once we clean these storm drains out it will make a tremendous difference." 

During Wednesday night's discussion, representatives from the Planning Department also highlighted a slew of policy changes made to the city-parish's Unified Development Code since the historic floods of 2016. Those changes are geared toward holding developers more accountable and improving how new construction happens as flooding frequency increases.

Among those changes were reducing development density in rural zoning districts, requiring that developers design for 25-year storms (those that have a 4% chance of happening in a year), prohibiting certain discharges onto adjacent properties with drainage servitudes, requiring routine maintenance and inspections of drainage facilities on private property and requiring on-site drainage facilities be constructed and functioning before other developments in residential subdivisions.

"These code-based solutions play a significant part in better protecting the parish from flooding, along with infrastructure improvements and ongoing maintenance," Ryan Holcomb, the city-parish's Planning Director, said in an email Thursday. "Additional regulations will be coming, but the modeling related to the Stormwater Master Plan must be completed to provide data for further decision-making."

Councilwoman Jennifer Racca says it'll be important for the council and the public to understand the legal issues surrounding moratoriums, which will inform any decision she possibly makes. 

The Parish Attorney's Office has said a legally sound moratorium would require specific goals that would be reached during the temporary halt, a defined time frame, and be confined to a high-hazard area.

"I've reached out to get more information in regards to how the law interprets a high-hazard area," she said. "Those things are very important to determine, then we can explore other options."

Hudson, who represents the southeast part of the parish, sees the negative impact a moratorium could have on the economy and city-parish budget as a glaring negative. 

Given the financial hit developers and businesses already took last year because of the pandemic, another roadblock would not only impact the industry and its employees, Hudson noted. He said it would mean a severe blow to the revenue the city-parish receives through its 2% sales tax, which would mean less money for drainage maintenance and other city-parish departments. 

"Do we really want a moratorium that causes less money for police during one of the worse crime waves we've ever seen? That's a question we really have to ask," Hudson said. "Clearly the public wants it. I'm truly not convinced they understand the negative affects though."


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com