Why the Metro Council blocked a proposed development in the flood zone

A proposed development of 60 single-family homes off of Burbank Drive called Maple Cove, which was to be built completely in a flood zone, was removed from the Metro Council agenda Wednesday after it was also blocked by the Planning Commission in September.

New developments in the Baton Rouge area, even those in areas prone to flooding, are rarely blocked, so why was this one shot down?

The primary reason was because of concerns about drainage raised by nearby residents in the University Villas subdivision, says Rowdy Gaudet, council member for District 3, who moved to delete the item from the Metro Council’s agenda.

The proposed plan for Maple Cove would have had the development draining into University Villas and then into Bayou Fountain, Gaudet says, causing concern about higher amounts of water in University Villas as a result. 

The developer, Baton Rouge-based MR Engineering and Surveying LLC, made concessions in planning the project to alleviate flood risk and did its best to respond to concerns, but all parties weren’t ultimately able to reach an agreement, Gaudet says. 

This isn’t the first time residents living next to proposed developments have raised alarms about increased flooding. Jim Bordelon, whose family’s property backs up to Highland Road, spoke against a multifamily complex planned for @Highland in July. The council, however, approved @Highland.

For the Maple Cove proposal, Gaudet says he was inclined to side with the concerned residents. When developer MR Engineering saw it was not something Gaudet would support in his district, all parties agreed to have the item deleted.

Another issue was timing, says Ryan Holcomb, Baton Rouge planning director. The application came in right before the updated design requirements for new construction in the parish were enacted via a temporary development moratorium sponsored by Gaudet. The moratorium gives developers the option to either provide enhanced water detention or reduce runoff for land in high-risk flood zones.

When asked whether the council’s decision might be a sign of coming times, Gaudet said the proposed development is a microcosm of discussions currently taking place in the parish. Residents had concerns about drainage and property being developed on wetlands, and did an effective job of making their concerns known, he adds.

“The conversation that occurred here and the concerns we heard from residents of nearby neighborhoods has been going on for quite some time,” Gaudet says. “And I think it’s a reason that a temporary moratorium was able to be passed a couple of months ago.”

However, MR Engineering and Surveying still has options. The developer can submit a new application with a revised site plan for rezoning in that area, and Gaudet says the conversation is ongoing.

A representative for MR Engineering and Surveying could not be reached for comment.