Developer offers nearly $600,000 in lieu of road infrastructure; Planning Commission punts

Planning Commissioner Wade Schexnaydre

In September 2018 Ross Berthelot appeared before Ascension’s Planning Commission to lobby for two subdivisions his company sought to develop; Highland Trace and Lake at West Creek (since renamed Parks at Water Oaks).  Both were approved by a unanimous commission with the condition that a proposed roundabout be constructed and operational or Berthelot pay for a traffic signal at the intersection of Germany and Braud roads (turn lanes were also required to facilitate ingress/egress for Parks at Water Oaks).  Berthelot was back before the commission this week, in cooperation with Ascension Parish Government, offering nearly $600,000 to the parish (in lieu of the expected cost of those turn lanes and traffic signal).

Berthelot was supported by members of President Clint Cointment’s staff and the purported approval of Councilman Aaron Lawler who chairs the Parish Council’s Transportation Committee.  Ultimately, the matter was deferred to the Planning Commission’s August meeting, but not before a spirited back and forth.

The September 2018 subdivision approvals came with the caveat that no Certificates of Occupancy would issue unless/until the roundabout or the turn signal is installed and operational.  Berthelot assured that he is ready to pay for the traffic signal, approximately $76,000, acknowledging its removal once the Germany/Braud roundabout is built the signal would be removed.

Part of the parish’s MoveAscension project, the roundabout at Germany/Braud will be “let out” for bid in the next few months according to Parish Engineer Joey Tureau with construction expected to take four months.  Combined with a second project, safety widening of Germany Road, the turn lanes for Parks at Water Oaks would be rendered superfluous and “ripped out” once the parish completes those projects.

The turn lanes, according to Berthelot, would cost approximately $500,000 which he would just as soon pay to Ascension Parish if he is allowed to sell a dozen lots with Certificates of Occupancy issued.  Commissioner Wade Schexnaydre was unmoved.

“It doesn’t matter,” he chastised Ross Berthelot.  “If you have one more house on Germany Road…that is a dangerous situation.”

Schexnaydre referenced the languishing project supposed to build turn lanes at Germany and Airline Hwy where, he said, two fatal accidents have occurred while the work goes undone.  Berthelot replied, citing his Traffic Study to argue against Schexnaydre’s proposition.

“Well, the traffic study is questionable,” came Schexnaydre’s retort, echoing the sentiments of untold residents who’ve argued against dozens of subdivisions over the years.  “I also made you aware, when you asked for this approval, if this roundabout is not done, don’t come back to us asking for this.”

Planning Chairman Matthew Pryor joined the fray, arguing for consistency in the Commission’s actions and referencing the denial of Antebellum Pointe…

DENIED: Antebellum Pointe fails in 4-3 Planning Commission vote

It was denied because its corresponding Traffic Study showed Level of Service reductions at certain intersections, even as Pryor argued that “technically, (Antebellum Pointe) met Level of Service” requirements.  It has been appealed and, we are told, will be considered by the Parish Council on July 16.

“Require it for some developers, but not require for other developers who are willing to buy their way out of the conditions,” Pryor mused while managing to maintain a straight face.  “We’re not here to be politicians and bend to political will.  We’re appointed to follow the Land Development Code and ensure it’s being enforced.

Ricky Compton, in a return to his old stomping grounds, posited the administration’s view.

“Close to $600,000 is not just a small drop in the bucket.  It enables us to look at another project sooner rather than later.”