ZACHARY — Over the objections of residents worried a proposed subdivision may cause their properties to flood, the Zachary City Council on Tuesday approved preliminary plans for the 620-house development on the western side of the city.

The unanimous vote allows the developer to move forward with the approval process for Zachary Trails, which would sit on 313 acres near Old Scenic Highway and Flanacher Road. The preliminary plans were recommended for approval at the Zachary Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on Sept. 6.

“These 620 houses will be built over an eight-year period, so you won’t see the first rooftop probably till 2019,” said Michael Clegg, who represents the developer, Zachary Trails Land Company LLC. He said 85 houses would be built in the first phase and 65 in the second.

“It’s not a concern for the infrastructure. We believe this is a great project,” Clegg added, noting a retention pond would take up about 30 acres of the subdivision.

Yet several people spoke against the development, saying they’re not convinced they will be protected from flooding. They wanted to know where water from the subdivision would go in the event of a rain heavy enough to fill the retention pond.

City planner Amy Schulze said it would flow to canals to the west, meaning “it won’t affect drainage downstream, like in Cypress Bayou.”

In a tense moment, Kathy Rogillio expressed concern that Zachary’s growth is negatively affecting residents like herself who live nearby but not inside city limits.

“So it’s OK to not harm the city of Zachary, but you’re fine with harming people who pay property taxes for your school district?” she said.

Soon after, Mayor David Amrhein banged his gavel against the table, repeatedly telling Rogillio, “No, ma’am.”

Earlier in the meeting, he had tried to allay the residents’ worries.

“We care about every individual homeowner here,” Amrhein said, adding that he rides around the city whenever it rains to check if there are any problems. “That’s my job. But also understand ... you’re either growing or you’re dying.”

The city has spent $1 million in the past three years on drainage improvements and is working with the city-parish to do more, the mayor said. But he also said only so much can be done without discouraging developers from coming to Zachary.

Trae Welch, who represents the Zachary area on the Metro Council, spoke in favor of the subdivision at the meeting. He said he’s thankful it will be inside city limits.

Building in the parish “doesn’t help the city of Zachary when it comes to taxes,” Welch said.

Some speakers also questioned if roadways in the area will be able to handle additional traffic. Nick Ferlito, of Baton Rouge engineering firm Neel-Schaffer, said about 120 extra trips would be added in peak traffic hours in the first two phases.

He noted his firm’s traffic study took into account Meadow View, another subdivision in the works nearby, and included recommendations to build a left turn lane on Old Scenic Highway and right turn lane on Flanacher Road.

In other business, the council:

  • Introduced an ordinance that would set a $36,000 income ceiling for senior citizens who receive a discount on their water bills. There previously was no threshold, but the city discovered the discount could be illegal unless it qualified as aid to the needy, said city attorney John Hopewell.
  • Voted to set Halloween trick-or-treating hours for 6 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 31.