David Vial

David Vial

Providing incentives for developers to steer clear of wetlands when they build residential subdivisions is one of the ideas on the table to reduce flood risk in south Tangipahoa Parish.

The Parish Council on Wednesday is expected to take up this proposal and others drafted by a committee over the past several months. The committee, made up of council members and parish officials, was responding to concerns about fast-growing development in the Ponchatoula, Robert and Bedico areas where some people flooded twice in 2016.

The council put in place a 120-day moratorium on approving new subdivisions while the proposed regulations were being drafted.

"We're trying to maintain wetland areas and floodway areas in their natural environment," said David Vial, the Hammond-area parish councilman who has chaired the committee that developed the proposals.

The most novel concept is a system of "density bonuses" meant to encourage developers to build on dryer parts of their property and leave the wetlands and floodways to absorb rain during major storms. 

For example, if a developer is willing to set aside at least 85 percent of five acres of wetlands, then he or she can subdivide smaller lots on five acres of land on that same piece of property.

"What we’re saying is, instead of buying out wetlands and paying money to a wetland bank or the Corps of Engineers, why not just preserve them as much as you can?" said John Dardis, a consultant for the parish who has helped write the new regulations.

Dardis said the new regulation should be appealing to developers, who have sought waivers in recent years to build more affordable houses on smaller lots.

The second major adjustment is to divide the parish for planning purposes into urbanized and rural zones. The urban area encompasses the areas around Hammond and Ponchatoula, while the rural zone is the rest of the parish.

In the rural areas, the proposed ordinance calls for minimum lot frontages to increase from 80 to 100 feet.

In the urbanized area, lot frontages would remain at 80 feet, but developers who take advantage of the density bonuses could reduce that to 70 feet.

“This whole thing is a balancing act between property rights and public welfare,” Dardis said.

The proposed ordinances also call for a number of other changes for residential subdivisions larger than 20 acres or 50 lots:

  • Fifteen percent green space, compared to just 1.5 percent now.
  • Traffic study required for subdivisions in the urbanized zone.
  • Homeowners association must be established.
  • Permits required for land clearing.
  • Increased use of best management practices for sediment and erosion control and stormwater retention and mitigation.

The parish already requires drainage studies prior to development, Dardis said.

Parish Council President Bobby Cortez said the proposed ordinances appear to have support on the council, citing the unanimous introduction they received at the Dec. 10 meeting.

But some residents say the ordinances do not address enough of the issues in south Tangipahoa Parish.

Among the reasons cited for the subdivision moratorium was the sheer number of people moving to the area and how population growth was affecting fire protection and crowding at the Ponchatoula schools. 

“I don't feel like they've addressed all of those issues," said Brigette Delatte Hyde, of Ponchatoula.

Kim Coates, also a Ponchatoula resident and an advocate for environmental issues in the parish, said she also felt that the process was not transparent. Meetings were held at 2 p.m. on Wednesday afternoons, and it was not apparent that they were public.

"I don't think it's transparent, and they keep developing in that area," Coates said.

Follow Caroline Grueskin on Twitter, @cgrueskin.