East Baton Rouge is considering anti-flooding rules on new developments being proposed by the Planning Commission.
Most new subdivisions would be required to include areas of open spaces under a proposed amendment the Commission passed Monday. The Metro Council is expected to vote on the matter next month.
Leaving undeveloped spaces in new subdivisions was one strategy proposed to allay flooding following the 2016 deluge. Leaving untouched wetlands, streams and other natural features could satisfy the proposed requirements. Developers could also get partial credit for lightly-touched land like utility servitudes, some plazas, and athletic fields.
Developers successfully lobbied Monday to loosen proposed requirements on small projects.
In the original version, developments with six or more lots would be required to leave at least 15 percent of their area as open space in the suburbs, or 5 percent in urban and downtown areas. Each open space must be a minimum 100 square feet to count toward the total.
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It’s difficult to squeeze that much green space into small developments, said Larry Bankston, executive director of the Baton Rouge Growth Coalition. He proposed a 7 percent requirement for suburban neighborhoods of three to 10 acres, and 5 percent for projects of less than three acres. Commissioners passed the proposal with those suggestions, as well as a provision that would hold off implementation until Sept. 30 to give developers a chance to acclimate to the new requirements.
The measure passed unanimously and with little further discussion.
The proposed requirements would also demand trailer parks meet a blanket 10 percent open space requirement wherever they’re located. Less dense rural areas would have no open space restrictions on any subdivisions.
Not everyone involved in crafting the new rule was pleased by the final proposal. In an interview, Nancy Curry criticized one exception in the amendment that allows developers to reduce the land area requirement if they build detention ponds.
Curry, president of the Federation of Greater Baton Rouge Civic Associations, said she supports open space requirements. The problem, Curry said, is that detention ponds silt in over time, reducing their capacity to store water, and the parish does not have a mechanism to enforce homeowners associations to adequately maintain detention ponds.
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In a Metro Council committee meeting earlier Monday, general management of the parish planning staff was discussed. Council members are in the process of reviewing the Plan of Government, which lays out how the city-parish is administered.
Staff with the nonprofit Center for Planning Excellence gave a presentation demonstrating that the city-parish planning office doesn’t perform many of the duties it would take on in similarly-sized cities. Building inspections and other responsibilities are handled by public works departments, which fall under the mayor’s office, while the Planning Commission answers to the Metro Council, said CPEX Director of Planning Janet Tharp.
Committee members weighed the ramifications of uniting those functions under one banner and which branch of government such an organization would fall under.
Planning Director Frank Duke warned that words on a page would be meaningless unless authorities actually observe the rules. Already, some standard practices contradict the Plan of Government, he said. For example, there are circumstances when site plans may be automatically approved after 60 days if the Commission doesn’t vote on an item, but traditionally the parish has granted extensions to collaborate with developers and craft workable designs.
At least once in recent memory a developer sued the parish, alleging the Commission tacitly approved a plan by not voting. He dropped the suit when the Commission agreed to officially decide the matter at their next meeting, Duke said.
The committee took the comments under advisement and agreed to return next month to discuss specific changes to management of the parish’s planning.