Builders relieved as Ascension fill limit proposal fails

    Ascension Parish homebuilders and developers are breathing a sigh of relief after the parish council Thursday failed to override a veto of an ordinance they feared would boost the cost of construction and complicate the certification requirement process.

    The ordinance not only would have limited the use of dirt, or fill, to elevate homes and other structures but also required them to be built a foot higher than current standards, part of an effort to mitigate flooding in the flood-prone parish. The proposal was born from resident complaints that the parish’s current “zero net fill” practices—which involve mitigating the use of dirt with detention ponds to protect existing homes—exacerbate flooding on older and lower topography homes.

    There’s currently no limit on how much fill can be used, except for smaller, single-lot home construction.

    Parish President Kenny Matassa vetoed the effort last week, a move embraced by the local development community, which generally prefers the parish’s zero net fill practice. However, builders acknowledge there are issues with the current practice and say they want more time to study them.

    Karen Zito, president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Baton Rouge, says her organization—which is seeking national and state grants to fund research efforts—is optimistic about the sustained veto, saying it allows the organization “the opportunity to work with the parish to find fact-based solutions to our flooding challenges.”

    Builders also say they look forward to having more time to weigh in on property rights, a component many feel was neglected in the council’s proposal.

    “[The proposed ordinance] would’ve put the same restrictions on a person with 90 acres as a person on three-quarters of an acre,” says Shane Marler, a homebuilder with Marler Construction in Walker. “That’s not really the right thing to do.”

    Moreover, the proposed changes raised more questions than answers, says Roy Domangue, president of Gonzales homebuilding company Wooden Creations, Inc.

    “What needs to be looked at is what happens to water in one basin after a flooding event? How do we not negatively affect the basin itself? How do you build in that basin?” Domangue says. “To put one blanket on the entire parish and not consider the different basins is not fair to all.”

    While she “somewhat expected” Thursday’s outcome, Councilwoman Teri Casso, who voted to override the veto, acknowledges the 11-member council might need further education from HNTB, hired two years ago to review the parish’s floodplain management.

    “We’re going to go back to the drawing board and get this correct,” Matassa told Daily Report after the council vote. “We’re going to work together to try to come up with some good terms and a good document for the people.”

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