When East Baton Rouge passed stricter flood protection rules for developers, Councilman Dwight Hudson remarked how the move was unlikely to make anyone happy.
The ordinance, which Metro Council approved unanimously on Wednesday, was drafted over the course of several months in the aftermath of May’s severe rainfall that flooded more than a 1,000 homes in the parish.
Beginning Sept. 18, developers must ensure their property can withstand a 100-year storm — that is, one with a 1% chance of happening in a given year. Previously, developments had to be designed to withstand a 25-year storm.
Organizations that represent developers and homeowners helped draft the ordinance, its primary sponsor Councilman Rowdy Gaudet said.
New construction will soon have to meet stricter drainage rules in East Baton Rouge after a unanimous vote by Metro Council Wednesday.
“Drainage, flooding — that’s a community issue, so we are absolutely a part of it,” said Karen Zito, president of the Homebuilders Association of Greater Baton Rouge. “Rowdy (Gaudet) included everyone’s feedback. The industry as a whole was included — the developers, homebuilders, engineers, all of the stakeholders in our community.”
The rules will require builders working in floodplains to limit how much water flows from a property to no more than 90% of what flowed before the development. Alternatively, they can include stormwater detention systems that can hold enough water for a 100-year-storm.
Developers will be the ones that have to implement the standards, so it was a no-brainer for the Home Builders Association to get involved with drafting the rules, Zito said. Metro Council’s willingness to work with developers gave the association a more positive outlook on the tighter regulations than if they hadn’t been included, she added.
The Baton Rouge Growth Coalition, another developer group, was also involved in drafting the language, Executive Director Larry Bankston said.
“It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s something that the majority of the engineers we spoke with believe, overall, will be OK,” he said. “We just don’t know, but we’re going to work with this process.”
But that willingness by the council to work with the developers rubbed some people the wrong way.
“When developers are enthusiastically supporting a moratorium that stops development, what’s wrong with that picture?” Ed Lagucki, president of Federation of Greater Baton Rouge Civic Associations, asked. “Get real.”
His neighborhood group pushed for a more aggressive moratorium, like those in Ascension, West Feliciana and parts of Iberville that completely halted major new construction.
Lagucki also objected to the term “moratorium” being used to describe the ordinance because it fails to entirely halt new development.
“Putting a bowtie on it and calling it a moratorium sure did give a lot of people a false sense of great progress,” Lagucki said.
Gaudet’s ordinance, which he called a “special moratorium,” still has broad implications for developers because nearly half the parish lies within the FEMA-marked floodplains, according to the East Baton Rouge Planning Commission.
Both Zito and Bankston said the blanket moratoriums in neighboring parishes would have been the wrong short-term approach for addressing flooding.
“(Metro Council) sought out solutions rather than doing this blanket moratorium — and for what?” Zito asked. “(A blanket moratorium) doesn’t create the solution.”
Bankston called the final version of the ordinance a “resolution everyone can live with.”
Lagucki agreed that the new rules were a step in the right direction, even if they don’t go as far as his organization would have liked.
“The ordinance … was a small component that’s directionally correct,” Lagucki said. “It doesn’t make the flooding problem any better, but what it does do is it doesn’t make it any worse.”
The ordinance is only a temporary measure. It’s tied to the creation of Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s Stormwater Master Plan, which provides a roadmap on how to limit flooding in East Baton Rouge.
The new building legislation aims to give city-parish officials time to complete and review the stormwater plan before the ordinance expires in 12 months.
All three parties said they will closely watch Baton Rouge’s watershed study and intend to help draft the flood-prevention plan.
“The rain is coming, the hurricane is coming,” Zito said. “We want to know for each specific area what standards we should develop to. That’s important, and how great that these different entities are taking this science-based approach to the problem?”