New construction will soon have to meet stricter drainage rules in East Baton Rouge after a unanimous vote by Metro Council Wednesday.
Beginning Sept. 18, developers must design properties to withstand a 100-year storm — that is, one with a 1% chance of happening in a given year. Currently, developments in the parish must be designed to withstand a 25-year storm.
The rules would require builders to limit the amount of water that 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.
The new rules are meant to be temporary, District 3 Councilman Rowdy Gaudet said.
“This to me is but one piece of the puzzle,” he said.
The legislation is tied to the creation of Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s Stormwater Master Plan, with the intention of giving city-parish officials time to complete and review the plan before the ordinance expires in 12 months, according to the legislation.
The plan is expected to provide a roadmap on how to best limit flooding in East Baton Rouge and serve as a blueprint for future anti-flooding measures.
Broome took no public position on the building rules until after the vote Wednesday, when she issued a statement applauding the move.
Talk of tougher construction rules in Baton Rouge started after severe flooding in late May. Gaudet previously described his legislation as a “special moratorium” that halts development in federally-deemed flood zones, which wouldn’t be as aggressive as those adopted by surrounding parishes.
Those parishes, including Ascension, West Feliciana, and parts of Iberville, halted major new construction altogether, instead of just requiring higher standards.
Nearly half of the parish lies within the FEMA-designated floodplains, according to the East Baton Rouge Planning Commission.
Any project that submitted a completed application to the city-parish Planning Commission by the beginning of the month is exempt from the moratorium.
Public support for the moratorium was split during the meeting, but Federation of Greater Baton Rouge Civic Associations President Ed Lagucki told the council his organization is against the ordinance because it isn’t strict enough and may encourage further development in flood-prone areas.
“We feel that this proposed ordinance does not rise to the level of a moratorium,” Lagucki said. “It will not stop any activities in the special flood hazard area, in fact, it will probably greenlight developers by showing them exactly how they may proceed to build in the flood plains for the next 12 months.”
The legislation has been in the works for months and a planned August vote on it was deferred to allow for amendments.
The original version required builders to both limit outflow from the property and include stormwater detention. The amended rules required one or the other. Gaudet said developers told him it was impossible to do both.
The legislation also now clarifies that it would only apply to developments approved after the ban goes into effect and provides clearer guidelines for construction straddling the edge of a flood zone, Gaudet said.
Before the council approved the ordinance, Councilman Dwight Hudson, a cosponsor of the item, said he wasn’t surprised by the split opinions over the moratorium.
“When the sponsor group got together to start this process,” he said, “we all made the comment that we weren’t going to make anybody happy with this.”