Is the Council or Planning Commission responsible for adopting new Master Plan?

50, or is it 60,000 people are coming to Ascension Parish in the next 25 years whether you like it or not according to Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX) Director of Planning Janet Tharp.  Where those new residents are going to live, how jam-packed into Residential Neighborhoods, Estate Subdivisions, or Neighborhood Hubs allowing an unspecified number of houses per acre has yet to be determined.  Tharp would not, or could not answer a mini-flurry of questions about density fired from a sparse (sparser, anyway, than earlier meetings) crowd at Gonzales Civic Center on Tuesday.

A second meeting was held on the west bank Wednesday.

CPEX was retained by Ascension, for $450,000, to produce a new Master Plan for the Planning Commission’s consideration.  Whether the Commission has the final say on adoption of a new plan is a matter of some conjecture.

Ascension’s Home Rule Charter, Section 4-18, states:

The parish governing authority shall make and adopt and shall be authorized to amend, extend and add to an official plan for the physical development of the unincorporated areas of the parish, and shall create by ordinance a planning commission with the powers and duties set forth in state law

Therein lies the conflict.

The “parish governing authority” is defined by the Charter as the elected Parish Council, tasked by Ascension’s founding document to “make and adopt…amend, extend and add to an official plan.”  But the Planning Commission must be created “with the powers and duties set forth in state law.”

Louisiana Revised Statute 33:106 enumerates the powers and duties of any Planning Commission, unless those powers are modified by the Home Rule Charter.  The statute reads:

“A parish planning commission shall make and adopt a master plan for the physical development of the unincorporated territory of a parish.”

This conflict of laws was taken up by one member of 2018’s Home Rule Charter Revision Committee, former Council Chairman Bill Dawson’s bait and switch intended to weasel A Better Ascension’s (ABA) plan to abolish the parish presidency onto a ballot.  Another proposed amendment would have transferred Planning Commission authority to approve subdivision preliminary plats to the elected Council but it died along with ABA subterfuge.

Ascension Parish Government in action.

As for the new Master Plan itself, CPEX is proposing various categories of residential development.

  • Rural Residential/Open Space-usually located in wetlands and floodplains (assuming Ascension ever identifies its floodplains) with a “minimum of five acre lots per unit.”
  • Estate Subdivision-have large lots of at least one acre per unit.
  • Residential Neighborhood-continues to be a vital asset in the parish (according to CPEX), consisting of a mix of lot sizes ranging from large lot to medium and small lot, single-family, detached homes.  Notably omitted from CPEX’s definition is the number of units allowed per acre.
  • Neighborhood Hub-would provide (since the classification does not exist yet) parish residents with access to housing as well as many goods and services in a compact area.  They are designed to support multimodal transportation systems so that people can drive, walk, or bike where they need to go.

CPEX’s vision also includes Commercial/Retail and Employment (Industrial/Business Park).

All of which would necessitate the rezoning of Ascension Parish which can only be accomplished by ordinance, the exclusive province of the governing authority, i.e. the Parish Council.  Four of that 11-member body attended Tuesday’s meeting…

noncommittal, for the most part.  (Councilman Randy Clouatre, who has stated he will not seek reelection on October 12, was also present).  The only declared candidate to succeed Clouatre, Chase Melancon showed up on Tuesday with numerous concerns, few of which were allayed by CPEX’s presentation.

Chase Melancon used the current zoning map to explain proposed changes presented by CPEX

Melancon explained his visual aid:

-Blue Area (Zoned Medium Density) is for neighborhoods, big and small.
-Purple Area (Zoned Rural) is for 2 Dwellings per acre

-Outlined area in blue highlighter shows where the new Master Plan is recommending the Blue Area be stretched to. I’ve highlighted HWY 431, Gold Place Rd (HWY 934), and Stringer Bridge Rd (HWY 935) for reference.

Of course, there’s plenty of more info that goes along with it. As always, would love to hear if you believe this represents the wishes and best interest of AP citizens on what the future of AP could potentially look like.

Melancon was among four challengers for Parish Council to attend the meeting where CPEX’s Vision…

elicited more questions than there were answers.

District 11 hopeful Michael Mason was left to wonder “why CPEX is pushing to nearly quadruple rental units…(though)…it is encouraging to see recognition that some areas of Ascension are not suitable for development.”  District 5 candidate Brandon Golson urged that future public school locations be factored into the equation.

“It concerns me that CPEX has concluded that our Planning Commission, seven members appointed and not elected, with a chairman who has openly stated he is ‘generally pro-development,’ gets the final say on a problematic Master Plan proposal,” said Jeff Pettit, a candidate for the Council’s District 10 seat.

Jeff Pettit [right] with Planning Commissioner Wade Schexnaydre

“These are momentous decisions that should be made by elected officials who must face the voters this fall,” he concluded.

According to the Master Plan website (www.ascensionmasterplan.com) “comments received by 5 pm May 16 will be provided to the Planning Commission prior to their May 29 meeting.”  The next Planning Commission meeting, which includes another CPEX presentation, is May 8.

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