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Advocate staff file photo.

The Preserve at Goodbee Lakes started out as a project to build 229 homes on La. 1077, according to St. Tammany Parish officials, but concerns about drainage on the 227-acre property delayed the plan for a year and touched off what might become a revamping of development rules for flood plains in the parish.

A task force that was formed last year has been meeting to thrash out potential changes to what St. Tammany requires developers to do to reduce flood risk in a parish that has seen rampant growth.

The panel was appointed after the developers of two proposed subdivisions, one of them the Preserve at Goodbee Lakes, wanted to use a single stormwater detention pond to meet two separate flood mitigation rules.

The task force's proposals will be discussed at a special meeting of the Parish Council at 6 p.m. June 24, but they likely won't come up for a final vote until November, according to Councilman Mike Lorino, who chairs the task force.

In the meantime, the Parish Council voted Thursday to give the go-ahead to the Preserve after its developer, D.H. Horton, scaled back the size of the subdivision to 66 residential lots on 75 acres. 

Jeff Schoen, an attorney for the developer, told the council that the original development was approved in 2014 at 229 lots, but issues involving wetlands and mitigation requirements for bringing in fill dirt forced the developer to shrink the subdivision, initially to 91 lots and then finally to the current plan, which was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission in April.

"I couldn't get out of the batter's box" with the earlier plan, Schoen told the council, but with the changes, he said, the project "hit a home run."

The Preserve had to clear one more hurdle Thursday night, 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 commission's 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. It didn't consider its impact on the movement of floodwater.

Allen, who is a certified flood plain manager, said that a separate study should have been done on that issue.

He said the parish is risking losing flood insurance and that heavy development in the Goodbee area threatens to bring floodwaters down into Covington.

The area in question, northwest of Covington, is being heavily developed, Allen said. It has 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 their group's work is 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 in the size of the subdivision as a reason.

Lorino said he anticipates a lengthy meeting on proposed changes to the development rules, and that's why he wanted to hold a separate meeting on this topic only.

He said he wants buyers to be informed when they are purchasing a house in a flood plain, and 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 as to how to handle projects that are already in the pipeline.


Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.