If it frustrates the development community to the point of muttering veiled threats on their way out the door, can it be all bad? One of Ascension’s land barons, Dempsey Pendarvis, angrily exited the Courthouse Annex in Gonzales on Thursday after a unanimous vote to cap fill material at three feet, period; an admittedly arbitrary number which enraged his builder brethren used to getting their way from parish elected officials.
Until Thursday commercial and Major/Minor Subdivisions could elevate properties above three feet with fill material, but were required to mitigate adverse impact with compensating storage. In practice that means all those detention ponds at all those new subdivisions need not be so large because there will be less fill to mitigate. Individual lots smaller than two acres are absolved of the mitigation requirement.
The new ordinance recommends “pier and beam” or “chain-wall” construction to meet new elevation requirements without fill in addition to three feet.
A second amendment, this one requiring new construction to be built two feet above Base Flood Elevation, up from one foot currently, also drew the ire of Pendarvis and six other members of the development community plying their trade in Ascension Parish. FEMA requires BFE, plus 1′ for participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Councilman Bill Dawson’s motion added the amendment to proposed legislation delivered to the EA Drainage Board a year ago, then inexplicably delayed by the Board’s chairman, Councilman Dempsey Lambert.
“We’re supposed to be controlling fill in the floodplain right now, but we don’t do it,” Councilman Dawson, who currently occupies the District 2 seat, justified the drastic changes. Increased elevation is “the one thing we can do to keep future residents out of” floodwaters like those experienced in August 2016.
Public pressure mounting to do something, anything, after 2016’s devastating flood and momentous changes had to be adopted with little analysis performed. HNTB engineers, hired by the parish to propose Development Code improvements, admitted as much two months ago. What went into the 11th hour changes (Councilman Aaron Lawler’s motion added an inspection requirement for detention ponds which would prohibit issuance of Certificates of Occupancy if not up to standard) is unclear.
“Too many questions, not enough answers. Let’s not make a poor decision just to say we made one,” offered Nathan Spicer, a local builder whose participation in the minimal debate is of recent vintage.
Spicer and others decried the additional construction costs (he estimated $8-15,000 per home) necessitated by the new ordinance. Will it halt development? Transportation Impact Fees initiated in April 2016 didn’t do it; neither did 2013 measures to ensure green space even though developers, some of whom were present on Thursday, warned of impending doom for the housing market.
“Poppycock,” concluded Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee who defended the heightened elevation requirement.
Dempsey Lambert had offered a substitute motion to retain elevation at BFE, plus 1′ but Lawler counteracted it with his own substitute.
The new elevation requirement seemed to cause more developer angst than the 3′ fill material cap. Once the Lawler changes made it into the final document the changes were adopted unanimously, causing builder disruption of the meeting.
“That’s absolutely wrong to hold a guy from a C.O. (Certificate of Occupancy) to build a $400,000 house,” shouted Billy Aguillard from the gallery (loud enough to be heard on the YouTube video of the proceedings).
“He can’t get a C.O. for his house (inaudible due to Chairwoman Teri Casso’s energetic wielding of her gavel). That’s wrong,” concluded Aguillard who would exit the council chamber in obvious disgust.
He was not alone.
Not known for courteous dealings, it was Pendarvis who first interrupted deliberations when Councilman Satterlee defended the increased elevation requirement. As is his wont, the Prairieville council member resorted to personal experience with FEMA elevation requirements at his secondary residence in Slidell. Significant savings in flood insurance premiums are to be had by building to higher elevations.
“Why don’t you move to Slidell,” shouted Pendarvis, unused to being denied his will.
Pendarvis from May 2016:
“I said but let me tell you (inaudible) Kenny, ‘you’ve made a commitment to me and to numerous other people that I brought to you, and brought you money; that you would run Ricky Compton off. In life, if you just stick to your agreements you ain’t gonna have no problems. Now, if you don’t stick to your agreements (inaudible) problems right off the bat.”
“The only thing that would disappoint me was that I didn’t get to give him his walking papers. I’d a like to brought them to him and said, ‘Hey boy! Remember me, now? How do ‘ya like me now?’”
On Thursday it was Pendarvis who got “his walking papers.” Not one to go quietly, the self-styled power-broker alluded to what would happen to Satterlee if he “ran into (Pendarvis) on the streets.” Unsurprising given Pendarvis’ penchant for threats of violence, bluff and bluster.
Current Planning Director Jerome Fournier claimed to have been threatened by Pendarvis in April 2018.