Gonzales Planning defers Orleans Place attempt to avoid “pier-and-beam” requirement

Existing detention pond behind Francois Plaza

Utilization of detention ponds to mitigate fill in Ascension Parish’s Unified Land Development Code has caused more than a little consternation for existing residents convinced the ponds do not work.  On Monday the City of Gonzales’ Planning Commission declined to consider a neighboring pond intended to mitigate fill in a decade-old subdivision, Orleans Place, so that its 2009 Final Plat might be revised to eliminate a requirement for “pier-and-beam” construction.  Developer, Grady Melancon, has a pending sale of 40 undeveloped lots to DR Horton, LLC contingent upon eliminating the requirement.

Proposing to access an existing detention pond servicing Francois Plaza Office Condominiums (north side of E Worthey Road), Melancon exited City Hall on Monday undeterred and confident of ultimate approval.  Why wouldn’t he be since Mayor Barney Arceneaux and a majority of the City Council has demonstrated little inclination to hold any developer’s feet to the fire.

Orleans Place is accessed by Nickens Street from E Worthey. Detention pond is located in southeast corner of image.

All actions by the Planning Commission are mere recommendations to the City Council which exerts ultimate authority.

In Orleans Place pier-and-beam homes are intermingled with slab houses.  That is due to former Ascension Parish Drainage Department headman, Bill Roux, supposedly allowing the developer to ignore the 2009 Final Plat note (as if Roux would ever tell Grady Melancon “NO”).  On January 28, 2021 DR Horton’s Land Acquisition Manager Jake Lambert emailed officials for the city and parish (excerpted below).

As you are aware, there is a note on the plat that currently requires all houses constructed in Orleans Place to be constructed on Pier/Beam in order to restrict fill and preserve the stormwater storage in the floodplain…As you are also aware, the most recent homes constructed in Orleans Place have been constructed on slabs at-grade.  (Emphasis added).

Purportedly they were approved by Roux’s fiat, though no one could locate documentary evidence of Roux’s diktat.  Gonzales CAO Scot Byrd sent an email to concerned parties on February 8:

I have researched our files to find a letter from Mr. Roux authorizing the construction of homes on grade (slab) in Orleans Place in reply to the letter written by Billy Taylor, dated May 10, 2017. I am unable to find a copy after searching our electronic and paper files. I have spoken with Ron Savoy and he is unable to find a copy, either. After speaking with my staff, I am told they remember the letter and we have every reason to believe that it did exist.

I call your attention to the letter’s request that the letter requested permission to build on slab for Lots 33-35. My building official confirms those lots are built on slab.

As for the remaining lots, it is my opinion that the plat’s note prevails and they should be built on piers as required on the plat. The City is open to considering a revision of the final plat, going thru the regular planning and approval process. Should you require anything other than proceeding to either build on piers or revise the plat, I will have to refer any other proposal to our city attorney for his recommendation.

On Monday it was Planning Commissioner Doug Gautreau who moved to table Melancon’s request “until legal documents between the parties” could be reviewed by the City Attorney.

By agreement between the city and Ascension Parish, it is the latter that oversees drainage inside Gonzales corporate limits in return for nearly $4 million in annual tax revenue for East Ascension Drainage District.  Ascension’s Engineering Review Agent Shaun Sherrow emailed proposed terms of approval to CAO Scot Byrd “only six minutes before the close of business” on Monday.  The terms:

  1. We receive a draft servitude map with preliminary approval from adjacent landowner that they agree to proposed servitude and restrictions of any modification to the pond with EADW approval.  This is to be done prior to construction.
  2. We receive as-builts of the pond and the control structure to confirm that the pond was built per construction plans.
  3. No excess credits from this project be established and available for property beyond the limits of this subdivision.
  4. The contractor gets proper SWPPP permit through City of Gonzales prior to performing earthwork.
  5. The developer addresses any other comments that City of Gonzales and EADW may have.

All of which as Ascension Parish is three months into a nine-month moratorium on subdivision of property as it attempts to figure out its drainage difficulties.  Ineffective detention ponds is one of the issues being addressed during the moratorium.