Different Philosophies: Personnel interviews Planning Commission applicants

Chairman Matthew Pryor (r) interviewing

Four applicants for three Planning/Zoning Commission seats interviewed with the Ascension Council Personnel Committee on Tuesday; three of them currently serving. The terms of Chairman Matthew Pryor, Commissioners Wade Schexnaydre and Ken Firmin, expire on Friday (February 8) with Personnel’s recommendations scheduled to be taken up by the full Council on Thursday.  Declared candidate for Council’s District 10 seat, Jeff Pettit crashed the party seeking to usurp one of those three seats.

The terms of four commissioners (Morrie Bishop, Tony Christy, Julio Dumas, and Aaron Chaisson) do not expire until February 8, 2020.

Pettit’s candidacy targets the council seat currently occupied by John Cagnolatti who, as fate would have it, chairs the Personnel Committee conducting Tuesday’s interviews.  Cagnolatti recused himself from the proceedings leaving his colleagues (Travis Turner, Oliver Joseph, Benny Johnson, and Todd Lambert) to ask the same series of questions to all four applicants.

The questions concerned:

  • use of contingencies
  • viability of Master Land Use Plan/should it be updated and how often
  • detention pond usage to mitigate drainage impact
  • efficacy of Transportation and Drainage Impact study requirements
  • whether or not new schools should/could be factored into commission decisions
  • how one’s personal feelings about any given plat would be reconciled with subdivision regulations

As to the last, Chairman Pryor defended his rigid adherence to the regulations found in the Unified Land Development Code, his belief that discretionary authority to deny a conforming subdivision preliminary plat is limited.

“Everybody has a bias but we are bound by the law,” Pryor cautioned against the “slippery slope of discretionary authority…If all requirements are met then they have the right to proceed.”

Pryor’s self-professed bias leans “pro-development” and seldom is the subdivision he will not approve.  He did exhibit mild frustration at the sites targeted for new subdivision by those developers.

“(Developers) don’t consider the best acreage upon which to build,” he added, even while conceding the “chaos (of) buying land where it shouldn’t be developed.  Buy it, build it…which is their prerogative.”

He favors the ability to approve preliminary plats with contingencies because the practice affords “more flexibility” while citing Jamestown Crossing’s “expansion of Hwy 930 or no development.”

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Pettit espoused the opposite view on multiple of the topics, especially the issue of discretionary authority.

“I am all for responsible, infrastructure-guided development,” he assured.  “When the public health, safety and welfare is jeopardized it is within a commissioner’s discretion to deny a subdivision plat whether it satisfies all codal requirements or not.”

The upstart Pettit lauded recent implementation of more stringent Traffic Impact Analyses and more effective detention ponds (something Wade Schexnaydre also did) while bemoaning the Parish Council’s failure to enact a Drainage Impact counterpart.

“And we need, desperately, to enact the delayed Floodplain Management Plan finalized by HNTB (engineers) seven months ago,” he declared.

The most egregious approval of any subdivision preliminary plat in his opinion:

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Wade Schexnaydre’s two-year tenure is notable for several votes to deny preliminary plats.  Uncomfortable with “so many contingencies” on the plats that have been approved since March of 2017, Schexnaydre offered up a third option.

“There are times when we are not as succinct as we need to be,” Schexnaydre, ever tactful, opined.  “Approving plats with contingencies should not be our norm.”

Schexnaydre recommended a third option (in addition to approval or denial of any given plat); defer the final decision until commission concerns might be addressed in the preliminary plat which would come back to the commission.

More so than his fellow applicants, Schexnaydre stressed the need for cooperation with the School Board in approving development, suggesting new school locations should be factored into the equation.

“It is a huge problem,” he said, recognizing the Board as “a separate governmental entity” not subject to parish control.  “Schools are a piece of our infrastructure, like roads and drainage, without which we shouldn’t be building.

Distinguishing himself further, Schexnaydre urged more frequent use of Planned Unit Developments “so we can have some control over these developments.”

Ken Firmin’s interview was unremarkable.