The St. Tammany Parish Council will discuss possible changes to rules for developers who want to build in flood-prone areas at a 6 p.m. meeting June 24.
Councilman Mike Lorino chaired a task force appointed last year in the wake of controversy over how developers address flood risk. The Parish Council had been asked to consider a change that might allow developers to use a single stormwater detention pond to meet two separate flood-mitigation rules.
Developers said that doing so would put into law practices they've been allowed to use in the past, but residents objected to what they saw as an easing of restrictions that would create greater flood risk.
The task force has been thrashing out potential changes, and Lorino said he is seeking a special meeting because he anticipates a lengthy discussion. The matter will not be on a regular meeting agenda until August, and Lorino said it will likely be November before any measures come up for a vote.
In the meantime, the subdivision that started all the fuss got preliminary approval from the Parish Council on June 6.
The Preserve at Goodbee Lakes started out as a plan to put 229 homes on 227 acres on Louisiana 1077, but its developer, D.H. Horton, scaled back the size of the subdivision to 66 residential lots on 75 acres.
Jeff Schoen, at attorney for the developer, told the Parish Council that the original planned unit development was approved in 2014 at 229 lots, and the developer shrank the project twice before it was finally given unanimous approval by the Planning Commission in April.
"I couldn't get out of the batter's box," Schoen told the council, but with the changes, he said that the project "hit a home run."
The Preserve had to clear one more hurdle, however.
Matthew Allen, a high school physics teacher who is one of the members of the task force, had filed an appeal of the Planning Commission''s approval of The Preserve.
Allen told the Parish Council that the review did not address how the subdivision will affect the flow of floodwater. The parish engineering department only considered how much water the subdivision will be able to store, he said, and it didn't consider its impact on the conveyance of floodwater.
Allen, who is a certified flood plain manager, said that a separate study should have been done. He said that the parish is risking losing flood insurance and that heavy development in the area threatens to bring floodwater down into Covington.
The area in question, in the Goodbee area northwest of Covington, is being heavily developed, Allen said. It's also seen three floods in recent years and is experiencing flooding in smaller rainfalls, he said.
"I'm speaking as a citizen and as a resident of the area," Allen said.
He warned the Parish Council that giving approval to this subdivision will mean that others won't want to abide by more stringent rules.
Allen, who represents the Little Tchefuncte River Association, and John Martin, of the Goodbee Civic Association, both serve on the task force, and they had urged the Planning Commission to wait until its work was done before voting to give the subdivision preliminary approval.
The Planning Commission didn't wait, and the Parish Council also voted unanimously to uphold the panel's decision. Councilman Red Thompson, who represents the area, pointed to the significant scaling back as a reason.
The discussion gave a hint of what's likely to be at issue when the task force proposals are brought forward later this month.
Lorino said that he wants buyers to be informed when they are buying a house in a flood plain. Schoen said developers are not opposed to making sure that the consumer is educated, suggesting that language could be added to plat maps or building permits.
But he urged the parish not to change the rules in the middle of the game and to give some thought to how to handle projects that are already in the pipeline.