Ascension Parish president proposes year moratorium on new construction

In response to an increase in severe weather events that are producing dangerous conditions because of stormwater runoff, Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment is proposing a 12-month moratorium on all new residential and commercial construction.

The proposal—which is going before the Ascension Parish Council at its meeting tomorrow—marks the parish’s latest attempt to address its longstanding drainage problems, which resurfaced during Monday night’s flash flood.

But it’s drawing major opposition from local developers and homebuilders, who say the moratorium would undercut the area’s economic competitiveness and worsen a parishwide shortage of affordable and attainable housing.

“The ripple effect across Greater Baton Rouge of halting residential and commercial construction in a high-growth parish will have a damaging effect on our local economy and impacts everyone,” says Karen Zito, president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Baton Rouge, in an emailed statement. 

As one example, she points to a study conducted by the National Association of Home Builders, which found that regulations imposed by governments at all levels account for 24.3% of the final price of a new single-family home built for sale. If new homes aren’t allowed to be built, Zito says demand will increase for existing homes, thereby driving up the price of those homes.

Still, Cointment says the proposed ordinance is needed to give parish government enough time to “consider all aspects of the combined impact of additional development and increased frequency of severe weather events” taking place in Ascension.

During the moratorium, local officials would decide whether to levy a potential drainage impact fee—the revenues of which could be spent only to offset the drainage impact of new developments and could go only to projects identified in advance. 

Also during the yearlong moratorium, the parish government would consider reducing residential density across all zoning classifications, as well as explore alternatives to determine development density by considering all factors that affect each piece of property, including road width, flood zone, wetlands, servitudes and easements.

Cointment also plans to review and modify subdivision construction specifications adopted in 2017. Specifically, his administration will consider increasing the stormwater detention requirements, upstream and downstream impacts and site design needed for the off-site drainage through a subdivision.

Additionally, he wants to weigh the pros and cons of purchasing certain properties in Ascension to expand the capabilities of detaining excess floodwaters, and to review the parish fill ordinance last revised in 2019.

While Zito believes the moratorium serves a useful purpose in forcing elected officials to focus on natural disaster and infrastructure issues, she says a moratorium on all new construction is a misguided attempt to solve Ascension’s drainage issues. Instead, the HBA of GBR continues to push for maintenance of preexisting drainageways and pump upgrades, believing the parish should be held accountable for this maintenance.

“If not even one new development were to occur in the next year, this flash flood that occurred would still impact the citizens,” Zito says. “New development is not the culprit.”