Vision or Pipe Dream for Ascension’s future: The CPEX Master Land Use Plan

Enumerating 29 Guiding Principles (nearly enough that every citizen in attendance could have his/her own), Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX) unveiled its latest proposal for a Master Land Use Plan at Gonzales Civic Center on Wednesday.  CPEX’s Vision for the Future of Ascension attempts to incorporate a lot of something for everyone, a bridge over the Mississippi River to link Geismar with sugar cane fields on the west bank most notably, without a plan to pay for it.

According to Planning Director Jerome Fournier the (is it a) final product will go before the Planning Commission in a few months, with ultimate adoption up to the Parish Council in keeping with Ascension’s Home Rule Charter.  CPEX is pocketing $450,000 to lend its imprimatur to ideas which have been around for a decade or two, and others found loathsome by a citizenry weary of over-development without necessary infrastructure in place.

Bridge proposed over Mississippi River at Hwy 73 in Geismar

Unless there’s a billion dollars laying around in some Ascension Parish governmental fund of which we are unaware, what is the point of this?

Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee [at left] trying to make sense of it with Clint Cointment.

In combination with an ongoing Transportation Master Plan effort, and a Floodplain Management Plan already in the can but delayed by East Ascension Drainage Board’s chairman, taxpayers are already out-of-pocket about $1.5 million.

CPEX’s vision, since it cannot accurately be called that of citizens, from top to bottom:

Rural Residential/Open Space are usually located in wetlands and floodplains and have a minimum of five acre lots per unit.

  • How many Major Subdivisions have been built in “wetlands and floodplains” over the last two decades?

Estate Subdivisions have large lots of at least one acre.  

  • We can recall one such subdivision being approved by the Planning Commission since 2013.

Residential Subdivisions continue to be a vital asset in the parish.  

  • We’ve heard citizens call them a lot of things; but “vital assets in the parish?”

Neighborhood Hubs provide people with access to housing as well as many goods and services in a relatively small area…are designed to support multimodal transportation systems, so people can drive, walk or bike where they need to go.

  • One word…MONORAIL

Commercial/Retail areas consist of low and medium density service, office and commercial buildings and are near highway corridors or at highly visible intersections.

  • Sort of like the current Ascension Parish Zoning Map.

Employment Industrial/Business Park contain low- to mid-rise office, warehousing, light manufacturing and high tech uses such as clean manufacturing or information technology, business parks, and heavy industrial.

  • That’s what big rivers are for (for those who haven’t figured it out already).

Those 29 Guiding Principles, were listed under four sub-headings.

The highlights include:

Livable Community

  • Protect and maintain existing neighborhoods (whatever that means);
  • Focus on attracting new housing and jobs to areas that are already developed and already served by infrastructure (Aren’t already developed areas already attracting new housing and jobs?  Where is this infrastructure?)
  • Encourage mix-use compact development, served by multiple transportation options, at strategically located neighborhood hubs to alleviate vehicle traffic and create new employment opportunities (Again, MONORAIL!)
  • Provide a wider range of housing options to retain and attract youth…and to accommodate a variety of housing types and locations for people at all life stages and income levels (and we assume the development community will welcome it with open arms)

Transportation and Infrastructure

  • Invest in infrastructure improvements, including improved roads, drainage, stormwater management and wetlands protection (DUH!)
  • Plan for a public sewer system to prevent and reduce regulation of discharge into waterways (been on the wish list for three decades)
  • Direct new development toward areas where there are adequate roads to accommodate growth…(in Ascension Parish?)
  • Over the long term, provide a transportation option for people without cars (like a major city would do?  At least CPEX is not insulting proponents of maintaining Ascension’s rural character like the last Master Land Use Plan did)

Recreation, Open Space and Natural Environment

  • Preserve natural floodplain and wetland areas to provide for stormwater management, recreational use and natural beauty (or have EA Drainage Chairman Dempsey Lambert move forward with Floodplain Management Plan finalized five months ago)
  • Promote and support recreation, transportation, and tourism along the parish waterways (who remembers Better Recreation NOW!)
  • Increase and diversify recreational opportunities, including sports fields, play space, skate parks, passive recreational areas, walking trails, and natural areas (what, no kayak launch?  Apparently CPEX doesn’t remember Better Recreation NOW!)

Economy and Education

  • Strengthen and maintain the parish’s educational system to provide quality educational opportunities in all areas of the parish at all levels, from pre-school to job training and higher education (maybe Ascension Parish School Board should be picking up part of CPEX’s $450,000 tab)
  • Promote new economic development in the parish, especially on the west bank and in areas west of I-10 (there is this big river over there)
  • Target new businesses that are related to industries that have potential for growth in the parish such as industrial servicing, health care and logistics (because there’s this big river that courses through Ascension Parish; and a new bridge?)
  • Promote Ascension’s developable land, friendly business climate, water and rail access, and energy resources to encourage industrial development (and Industrial Tax Exemptions for all!!! Oh, right, we already do that in Ascension)

While public sentiment on Wednesday, and at CPEX’s first Open House in June…

is not captured, at least it ONLY cost $450,000 of taxpayer money.

Speaking of which, it sure sounds like a new tax proposal could be on a ballot in the near future.