A south Baton Rouge development proposed weeks before temporary drainage restrictions aimed at curbing flooding went into effect was blocked by the Metro Council amid pressure from residents.
District 3 council member Rowdy Gaudet moved to delete the item from the council’s Wednesday zoning meeting agenda after months of negotiations between the site’s developer and nearby neighborhood groups reached an impasse.
“We didn’t get there, and the neighbors may never get there, but I still think there’s some dialogue and discussion to be had,” Gaudet said.
If the council approved the rezoning, it would have paved the way for developer MR Engineering & Surveying LLC to build 60 single-family homes atop wetlands entirely within the floodplain along Burbank Drive.
“By developing this, you’re eliminating that sponge that is naturally there to absorb that water, which thus pushes it quicker and faster and more of it into our detention ponds and into our homes,” said Benjamin O’Connor, the homeowners association president for University Villas, which lies near the property.
When East Baton Rouge passed stricter flood protection rules for developers, Councilman Dwight Hudson remarked how the move was unlikely to ma…
The project was closely watched because it was one of the last of a wave of proposed developments in FEMA-designated Special Flood Hazard Areas that began after local leaders started discussing the temporary drainage rules after flooding in May.
The ordinance, which was authored by Gaudet, requires developers to ensure their property can withstand a 100-year storm — one with a 1% chance of occurring in a given year — and was approved by the council in September.
Previously, developments had to be designed to withstand a 25-year storm.
The development was exempt from the new regulations because it was submitted to the city-parish before the ordinance took effect, although the builder offered to follow the new rules anyway.
The concession wasn’t enough to appease the Planning Commission in September, which rejected the project by a 6-1 vote amid similarly stiff resistance from residents living nearby.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Planning Commission denied a proposed development and pushed back another amid pressure from residents worried abo…
O’Connor, along with several other members of his association, attended Wednesday’s meeting to object to the development despite the lengthy negotiations. The council also received 25 emailed comments in opposition.
“Unfortunately the flood risks are still staying about the same,” O’Connor said.
Mickey Robertson, an engineer who was representing the project, opted against speaking about it during the meeting before the council voted to block it.
Robertson declined to comment for this article.
The council’s vote sends the developer, which owns the property, back to the drawing board.
Gaudet cautioned the residents against considering the matter settled because the developer can still submit a new plan or simply build on the property within the constraints of its rural zoning designation.
But O’Connor said he is OK with that outcome because any new plan will now be bound to the stricter drainage regulations.
Fellow University Villas HOA member Nicole Wesley voiced a lack of faith that the developer would have kept its commitments if the project was approved.
“We are being made promises that won’t be kept,” Wesley told the council.