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Officials trying to limit development in BR's flood-prone areas as neighborhoods continue to grow

2 months 5 days 17 hours ago Friday, September 30 2022 Sep 30, 2022 September 30, 2022 7:18 PM September 30, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - Changes are coming to the parish's Unified Development Code, but some worry they're not coming fast enough, as growth continues in a part of Baton Rouge that has a known flooding problem.

Last week, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved Autumn and Winter Gardens — two neighborhoods that will go off Burbank Drive between South Kenilworth Parkway and Sehdeva Memorial Drive.

Preston Aydell's home in Hunter's Trace backs up to one of these neighborhoods, and he has concerns just like his neighbors. He's even more concerned because there's a 300-unit apartment complex that's also being proposed.

"The area where they want to put the apartment complex, at the front of our neighborhood, back when it rained extensively in May 2021, that area was basically a lake," Aydell said.

He's concerned about the traffic, flooding and safety issues that will come along with the developments, especially since the Army Corps of Engineers has deemed that land wetlands, or an area that's flooded by water.

That's not all — Eliza Gardens is another neighborhood with plans to develop, made up of 150 lots to the east of Sedheva Memorial Drive, near the front of Hunter's Trace.

Pelican Lakes Phase five and six will also bring another 240 homes to the area.

All of these homes would be built in a Special Flood Hazard area.

Aydell isn't sure where all that water is supposed to go. The developer of Autumn and Winter Gardens told the planning commission that detention ponds will hold all the water, but the land will have to be built up to the base flood elevation of about 19 feet.

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kelvin Hill voted against the two neighborhoods last week and was very candid about his thoughts.

"I can't wrap my head around why we would think this is a good idea," Hill said.

The proposed neighborhoods are especially concerning considering the problems in Kenilworth Crossing, a neighborhood in that same area that has flooded previously. People on several occasions have been trapped in their homes for days.

"They're proposing to build more homes off of Kenilworth Crossing. That doesn't make sense, particularly when they haven't done any mitigation around that area to prevent flooding," Aydell said.

The commission has approved development along Burbank Drive since the developer meets the criteria set forth by the EBR Metro Council. But changes are coming to the Unified Development Code. 

"They'll have to build to a 100-year storm code," District Three Councilman Rowdy Gaudet said.

He says his district, specifically along Burbank Drive, Nicholson Drive and River Road, has grown by 20 percent over the last 10 years.

While the city-parish has been conducting its Stormwater Master Plan, it has also put into place temporary rules under the year-long moratorium, making development more stringent. It will soon be time to make some of those rules permanent.

"What it will do for developers is it will cause them to come back to the table and say we need to look critically at these more stringent development rules; what does that mean for where we develop, what does that mean for the cost of developments," Gaudet said.

The 2016 flood drastically changed how parishes think about development. Six years later, changes are still being made, as leaders find a balance between making new rules while continuing to attract growth to the area.

The Stormwater Master Plan is nearing completion, and the parish is awaiting that data presentation.

"It will change the way we develop, but again, we don't want to halt how we develop as a community; we want to continue to grow and attract future generations to come to this area," Gaudet said. "We just want to be very strategic about how we do it."

The parish is also proposing a new fee to create a Stormwater Public Utility District to maintain the infrastructure in the parish.

Changes to the Unified Development Code should go before the Metro Council before the end of the year. The 300-unit apartment complex, Four Seasons Apartment Complex, goes before the Planning and Zoning Commission on Oct. 17.

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