Matt Pryor has a point: Council is to blame for 4-3 approval of Jamestown Crossing

Jamestown Crossing (Phases I and II), totaling 172 lots intended for either side of Hwy 930 just south of one of Ascension’s busiest roadways, Hwy 42, were approved by 4-3 votes of the Planning Commission on Wednesday.  Chairman Matt Pryor, regurgitating the same old justifications, joined commissioners Julio Dumas, Morrie Bishop and Ken Firmin in breaking the tie for Dantin Bruce Development’s latest project.

At least Pryor paid lip service to the to those drainage, traffic, safety, etc. concerns expressed by neighboring residents.  His colleagues in the majority did not.

If you’ve heard Pryor’s blame-shifting speech once…

“Don’t blame us”…Planning Commissioner Matt Pryor claims lack of authority.

You see, Pryor is only following the laws enacted, or not enacted by the Parish Council.  Ignoring an Attorney General’s opinion, and advice of the commission’s legal counsel (Cody Martin), Pryor continues to spout the fallacy that he lacks “discretionary authority” to deny preliminary plats that satisfy requirements of the parish’s Unified Land Development Code.

But he feels your pain.  On Wednesday, though, Pryor had all the legal justification he needed to deny Jamestown Crossing.

Hwy 930 is substandard, averaging 17.3 feet of crumbling asphalt over its length according to Planning Director Jerome Fournier.  The Parish Council just has not provided Pryor with the tools to reject a preliminary plat with dotted i’s and crossed t’s; But…

Ascension’s Land Development Code 17-4032 Street Requirements:

A. The Commission shall apply the following rules in evaluation of subdivision applications:
1. Density Restrictions
a. No major or minor subdivision may be developed on any street which is less than 18’ in pavement width.

Pryor’s colleague, another attorney on the commission, Aaron Chaisson pointed the ordinance out to the commission; even reading same into the record.  Chaisson also cited LDC 17:4093 to evidence that Jamestown Crossing was not entitled to a variance.

Pryor, Dumas, Bishop, and Firmin had no counter argument (other than their votes to approve, that is).  In fact, Pryor even conceded:

“We have to be 18 feet in pavement width…(yet) there have been three subdivisions approved” nearby in recent years.

He had the audacity to protest the commission “is not a rubber-stamp” to usher in more, and more, and more development in locations sorely lacking in infrastructure.  And he had the votes.

“We do have discretionary authority,” a frustrated Commissioner Wade Schexnaydre argued for denial.  “Sometimes we have to use it.”

Schexnaydre’s argument included the conclusions reached by Urban Systems, Inc. which was engaged by the parish council to fix Traffic Impact Studies (TIS) deemed “not worth the paper they’re written on.”

2016 Traffic Impact Policy review buried by Matassa Administration

Coincidentally, Urban Systems is also the traffic engineer for Jamestown Crossings that concluded:

“No improvements at studied intersections are recommended to offset additional cars generated by this project.  The future analysis accounts for current proposed Hwy 42 improvements.”

The intersection at Hwy 930/Hwy 42 is already rated “F” so Jamestown Crossing would not be allowed if expected TIS procedures had already been made more stringent.  The Council Transportation Committee, chaired by Councilman Aaron Lawler whose District 7 includes one phase of Jamestown Crossing, has taken up the issue.  Neither Lawler, nor Councilman Benny Johnson whose District 11 includes the other phase, were present on Wednesday.

Urban Systems proposed enacting St. Tammany’s TIS methodology which prohibits development when any subject intersection is rated below “D.”

If codified, Matt Pryor won’t have the Council to scapegoat anymore.  In fact, Ascension’s current TIS procedures are not found in any ordinance enacted by the Council.  It is a policy implemented by the Planning Department so maybe Pryor should point the finger at Planning Director Jerome Fournier or, better yet, the Planning Commission which he has chaired for two years.

Ultimately, we suppose, the Council is to blame.  It is the Council that appointed Matt Pryor, Julio Dumas, Morrie Bishop and Ken Firmin.

Official Minutes of March 16, 2017 Council meeting

On March 16, 2017 one Council member opposed Pryor’s re-appointment to the Planning Commission.  Pryor has a point; it is the Council to blame.