Changes to Baton Rouge floodplain development rules likely despite moratorium failure

While a contentious proposal to halt new floodplain developments for up to six months failed at Wednesday’s Metro Council meeting, the effort appears to have catalyzed changes to development rules aimed at reducing flood risk for residents.

Council members Buddy Amoroso, the proposal’s author, and Chauna Banks were the only members to vote for the moratorium, which faced an uphill battle from the start and drew the ire of the development community. Opponents worried, among other things, that it would stymie growth and negatively impact the construction industry.

But a wide range of city-parish leaders and council members are now turning their attention to mitigating the consequences of building in federally-designated high-risk flood zones.
“Everybody is going to agree we need to change things drastically with how we approve developments,” says Councilman Chandler Loupe. “I don’t think that’s an ‘if’ anymore. I think it’s a ‘when.’”

The when could be very soon. At its next meeting, the council will take up a proposal by Dwight Hudson and Erika Green that would require new developments in floodplains to be built to withstand a 25-year storm, rather than a 10-year storm as is currently required. The measure would also increase floodplain storage by an additional 10%. The measures are being pitched as common-sense changes that nearby municipalities have already made to their building codes.  

“It appears from everything I’m hearing that the development community can get on board with the 25 year (rule),” says Planning Commission chairman Jason Engen. “That might be a good step toward dealing with our drainage and floodplain issues.”

Councilman Matt Watson advocated for sending city-parish staffers to new developments to survey flood controls, much in the way they currently review things like electrical work before granting a permit.

Planning Director Frank Duke has convened a working group of city-parish officials and developers to review the Unified Development Code’s rules for floodplains, a study that he says should be done in less than six months.

Some of the changes Duke says could be coming are tighter restrictions on bringing fill to low-lying areas, requiring more open space and strengthening rules on impervious surfaces. Changes could also come to other chapters of the UDC.

Duke says the effort is a yearslong process. Recommendations will come out of the current study of the UDC. Planners will revisit the rules after HNTB finishes its stormwater study of the parish, and again after LSU brings its findings to the parish in several years.

“We’re going to keep working regardless of whether there is a moratorium,” he said.

—Sam Karlin

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