$800,000 worth of Master Plan proposals going nowhere fast

As one request for an Attorney General opinion clarifying Planning Commission authority over preliminary plats has languished for seven months, we hearken back nearly a decade to analyze the seven-member appointed body’s power to adopt a new Master Land Use Plan.  Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX) is pocketing $450,000 to give the commission something to consider at present.  “Does the Planning Commission have any final authority” to adopt a new Master Plan?

It is a deceptively complex question because of Ascension’s Home Rule Charter.  Section 4-18. Planning Commission.

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, and shall appropriate funds for the commission as it deems necessary and fiscally prudent.

In 2010 former president Tommy Martinez posed a series of question to the AG after a then nine-member Commission voted “to scrap the proposed master plan in its entirety…(after)…the Parish Council hired Winston and Associates ($300,000) to provide professional consulting services to create a comprehensive plan for the Parish.”  With CPEX’s $50,000 administration fee, the parish paid $350,000 for the proposed plan scrapped by the Planning Commission in 2010.

One of those questions, “Does state law provide the Planning Commission with final authority on the Master Plan or simply the authority to make a recommendation?”

AG’s Opinion 10-0225, issued on December 21, 2010 muddled the picture even further.  “(A)pproval of a master plan is the main power and duty of a parish Planning Commission (La. R.S. 33:106(A))…Your letter points to an apparent conflict between the first sentence” of (Section 4-18 of the Home Rule Charter) and (state law).

“We see no such conflict,” wrote the AG.  The Charter provision requires that the Planning Commission be created with the powers and duties set forth in state law…This provision recognizes that the Ascension Parish Planning Commission, whose creation is required by Section 4-18 of the Charter, should be vested with the powers and duties of any other planning commission.”

But 4-18 specifically requires the governing authority, i.e. the Parish Council, to “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…”

The AG, Buddy Caldwell at the time, would go on to write “(T)he governing authority has the power and authority to make and adopt a plan of its own.  However, it may avail itself of the statutory scheme available to parishes and municipalities who wish to delegate such authority to a planning commission.  If the governing authority determines to avail itself of such option, then the governing authority has delegated the authority of making and adopting a master plan to the planning commission…

Thus, the planning commission created by the governing authority has certain powers and duties, namely, the power and duty to adopt and create a master plan…Please note, however, that the delegation of the authority to make and adopt a master plan does not prevent the governing authority form exercising its authority over land management…State law specifically recognizes…the right of the governing authority to adopt ordinances inconsistent with the master plan.

The AG would add, “The governing authority has the power and authority to make and adopt a plan on its own…Further, La. R.S. 33:109(B) provides that the governing authority may adopt, approve or promulgate any local law, ordinance of regulation for land use, even if such is inconsistent with the master plan, as long as the governing authority considers the master plan.”

Back in 2010 over a dozen public meetings took up the Master Plan.  On April 19, 2010 the Planning Commission invited public comment, a sampling of which includes (from official meeting minutes):

  • Opposes small town centers (what CPEX is now calling Neighborhood Hubs)
  • Wants the rural character of the parish maintained
  • Main infrastructure is needed first…roads, water, sewer, etc.
  • Urban areas are prohibitively dense…can only read it as trying to finance HUD housing
  • Concerned with change to family partitions
  • Density requirements for rural parts of Parish-it will eliminate simple subdivisions of property
  • Master Plan does not focus on floodplain corridors
  • Current Master Plan is being ignored
  • This plan seeks to urbanize Ascension Parish
  • More emphasis is needed on single family residences, as it is one of the mainstays of Ascension Parish

It is eerily similar to recent CPEX Open Houses.

Two proposals, costing the taxpayers $$800,000, and the Parish Council may simply ignore any Master Plan the Commission adopts (that is conceding an actual court-of-law would agree with the nine-year old AG’s Opinion).

NOTE:  Another $800,000 went to…

$1.25 BILLION on 64 projects: The $800,000 Master Transportation Plan

a Transportation Plan of dubious, if any, value.