Oak Grove Townhouses’ preliminary plat was denied by a 4-2 vote of Ascension’s Planning Commission on November 8, 2017 resulting in an appeal to the Parish Council, convened as the Planning Commission Appeals Board on February 15. Several neighboring residents who had opposed the project three months earlier sat four hours, plus, through a 40-item Council agenda, to reiterate their opposition. Their patience was rewarded by another trip to the Planning Commission when Councilman Aaron Lawler moved to refer the issue back “based on alleged irregularities with the prior commission meeting.”
Lawler, whose District 7 encompasses the subject acreage and Willow Lake Subdivision where Oak Grove Townhouses opposition resides, did not specify what he meant by “irregularities.” That was left to Chairman Bill Dawson who indicated Dantin-Bruce Development, Inc. asserted a denial of its opportunity to rebut public criticism.
“Certainly, we’re not admitting there were any irregularities,” Lawler declared. “But I am recommending that we move it back to the Planning Commission to prevent any further issues.”
We are left to wonder if the councilman and six of his colleagues would exercise the same caution had mere citizens alleged similar deprivation of rights. We are fairly certain they would not.
Lawler, who claimed to have reviewed the November meeting, took no position with regard to the merits of Dantin-Bruce’s claim. Neither, unsurprisingly, did Legal Counsel O’Neil Parenton whose pro-development pronouncements are legion; his legal opinions evincing concern for the health, safety and/or welfare of current residents non-existent.
So Oak Grove Townhouses gets another bite at the apple. What else is new?
Is any developer entitled to “rebuttal time” by Planning Commission meeting procedure? That was not addressed by any council member or Legal Counsel Parenton; not addressed by Planning Director Jerome Fournier who confirmed Dantin-Bruce was afforded the opportunity to respond to questions from planning commissioners, four of whom voted to deny.
Meeting minutes captured concerns by four opposing commissioners:
- Commissioner Wade Schexnaydre “feels that the density in the area also makes it inappropriate at this time. He (recommended) the developer to look at this another time whenever the Parish has done some infrastructure improvements.”
- Commissioner Ken Firmin found “drainage issues down-stream of this project as well. Even though it is not the developer’s responsibility, it still needs to be looked at by the Parish before a project like this can go there. Too many concerns on the drainage layout.”
- Commissioner Anthony Christy “just does not think it is ready. There are some improvements that need to be made in the area with regards to drainage and roads. Welfare and safety of the people.”
- Commissioner Aaron Chaisson concluded “Traffic in that area is particularly bad and he just has issues with the traffic impact study…it was done on an early release day for some of the schools in the area. He is also concerned with the traffic impact study being inaccurate…compelling issues with regard to the drainage issue that he doesn’t think were addressed…”
Novel concepts given Planning’s history, more accurately reflected in the comments of Chairman Matthew Pryor and Morrie Bishop (Bishop only echoed Pryor without additional comment):
“The Commission is not the legislative body…the Parish Council sets the codes. Traffic and drainage are not new issues and yet the Council does not do anything to change the law in it, and that is what the Commission is bound by.”
Commissioner Julio Dumas, who never reviewed a subdivision plat he wouldn’t approve, was absent. Odds are he will attend the referred hearing; what Dumas and his fellow commissioners will hear is another question. Will Dantin-Bruce be limited to rebuttal and what, exactly are they going to rebut?
Recent revelations that President Kenny Matassa’s administration buried an April 2016 analysis of Traffic Impact Study procedure should give us all pause.
Oak Grove Townhouses’ Traffic Impact Study concluded, “No improvements at the studied intersections are recommended to offset additional cars generated by this project.” Since it counted only “56 Peak Hour Trips” it was only a “Threshold 1. Offsite Intersections Studied: None. (Threshold 1 only requires analyzing proposed entrances).”
Coincidentally (?), Oak Grove Townhouses employed the same Traffic Engineer, Urban Systems, Inc., as was tasked with reviewing Traffic Impact Policy in 2016. The politics of money certainly does make for strange bedfellows.
Which could explain another curious proceeding:
“I’ve looked at it (video of the November 8, 2017 meeting)…They did get to provide answers to questions,” Councilman Lawler confirmed. “They weren’t given a rebuttal period, and specifically rebut anything they wanted to rebut. It’s a tenuous argument.”
If Lawler’s constituents, those residents of Willow Lake who sat through a four-and-a-half hour Council meeting, had made such a tenuous argument would they be granted a rehearing?