While Baton Rouge officials profess to be increasingly focused on addressing the parish’s worsening flooding and drainage problems, the Planning Commission tonight is scheduled to consider three new residential developments in high-risk flood zones.
All three projects, which are partially or completely located in zones designated AE, or high risk for flooding, have been recommended for approval by the Planning Department staff.
A handful of concerned residents are outraged.
“It’s likely all three projects will be approved,” says Doug Daigle, who plans to speak at tonight’s meeting specifically against one of the proposals, The Park at Jones Creek. “The Commission has no accountability and they’re used to public anger, hurt, and damage resulting from their actions, so nothing new there.”
Among the controversial projects on tonight’s agenda:
• The Park at Jones Creek, a 23-unit development of single-family townhomes on a nearly 4-acre tract on Jones Creek Road that is 50% in the AE flood zone.
• Eliza Gardens, a proposed 150-unit single-family development on Burbank Avenue that is 100% in an AE flood zone.
• Gardens at Forest Park, a proposed 26-unit development of zero-lot-line, single-family homes on South Harrell’s Ferry Road that is about 20% in the AE flood zone.
Granted, all three projects call for flood mitigation measures, specifically deep retention ponds, which Planning Department staffers have deemed sufficient to sign off on the projects.
Daigle says that misses the larger point.
“The mitigation that’s required for these projects does not address the fundamental problem, which is the loss of the natural floodplain to development,” he says. “Retention ponds capture rainwater from a newly elevated area, but that doesn’t help surrounding neighborhoods. The water just gets displaced and backs up, flooding other areas.”
Planning Department Director Ryan Holcomb says all three projects meet current development regulations.
“We have updated the UDC many times since 2016, strengthened the development standards across the city-parish in high hazard flood areas, and all these developments do meet these requirements,” Holcomb says. “They have been verified by the (DPW) and meet or exceed current standards and provide for stormwater management and on-site drainage retention.
But with more than $1 billion in various drainage projects underway in the parish, all aimed at widening existing canals and clearing out creeks and waterways, Daigle argues that continuing to fill in the natural watershed is counterintuitive.
“If they don’t save the watershed, they will undermine all the good from these large projects,” he says. “The benefit you get from those things will be reduced as you continue to build in the flood zone. The public needs to understand that.”
The Planning Commission meets at 5 p.m. in the Metro Council chambers, 222 St. Louis St.