In 1994 Ascension Parish’s population was 63,925 and advocates of “maintaining rural character” could still be taken seriously. Hamstrung by the pettiness that comes with parochial police jury politics, 64% (4166 voters out of 6523 votes cast) of the electorate opted for Home Rule as Ascension scrapped the (some said) outmoded form of governance. 1994 was also the beginning of a residential subdivision building boom to accommodate what would become a doubling of Ascension’s population.
The most recent Census estimate puts the parish’s current population at 127,960.
Is there a causal relationship between Charter adoptions and population growth? Whose to say, though the striking uptick in population corresponds neatly. One thing is certain; adoption of the Charter did little to prepare Ascension to meet the overwhelming demand for basic infrastructure.
Given the cyclical nature of Ascension Parish residential development, the parish may be on the precipice of another building spike.
22 new subdivision preliminary plats were approved by the first post-Charter Planning Commission. The first subdivision approval was Manchac Plantation-2nd/3rd Filings and its 237 lots. Since that January 19, 1994 meeting various Planning Commission’s would go on to approve 278 residential subdivision preliminary plats; and more than 23,000 lots (every one of them on Ascension’s east bank, the vast majority in the northernmost parts of the parish).
NOTE: Not every one of the 278 approvals were actually built. In 2008 the Planning Commission approved the 361-lot Traditional Neighborhood Development, Riverton Plantation which would never be constructed. Fast forward eight years and a new commission approved a 780-lot subdivision preliminary plat, Riverton Subdivision on the same acreage.
These totals do not include developments within the city limits of Gonzales where subdivision development has kept pace with Ascension Parish over the last decade. Hurricane Katrina (2005) spurred an influx of residents in the city, too. Gonzales’ ability to attract commercial investment, especially retail, has kept the city’s fund balance healthy while providing a number of services unavailable to non-city dwellers.
That is due, almost exclusively, to Gonzales’ municipal wastewater treatment. City fathers made the trade: a burgeoning retail economy with its vital sales tax revenues in return for compromised drainage and the frustration of traffic-choked roadways during drive time. Parish decision-makers stayed out of the water business some decades ago, which hampered Ascension’s ability to treat wastewater efficiently, effectively and without exorbitant rates borne by customers.
Lack of parish infrastructure (roads, sewer treatment, drainage improvements) has been a commonly expressed concern for a decade now; so common as to become a cliche’. For a still (largely) rural Ascension Parish of the mid-1990s it was not much of a concern. Which is reflected in the numbers; a tendency toward recency bias notwithstanding, subdivision development is not more prevalent than it was back in the day, though Ascension’s infrastructure deficiencies are being felt more acutely.
From 1970 onward the parish was adding approximately 1,000 residents per year though 1993. Over the final seven years of the past millennium the annual increase doubled to 2,000 additional residents per year on average. 63,925 residents in 1994 became 77,347 according to the 2000 Census. By 2010 there were 107,886 as over 30,000 new residents were counted (a 3,000 per year increase).
Since 2010 the growth curve has flattened to 1,700 new residents added per year. Residential subdivision approvals tend to go in spurts, due to market influences we assume.
From 1994 through the end of 2000 there were 122 subdivision approvals, comprising a total of 7701 lots. Average subdivision sizes were 63 lots, a number that would increase over the years. In the late ’90s Pelican Point Subdivision’s 999 initial lots were approved in concept, inflating the average, then built out over several years. (In fact, its developer is still trying to add on).
The first decade of the new millennium saw 99 new subdivision plats (all but one by the end of 2008) approved with 9,242 lots. A single subdivision was approved in 2010 with none the year before as supply temporarily outpaced demand. The busiest five-year period in Planning Commission history was 2003-07 when 81 subdivision plats (16.2 per year) were approved, totaling 7722 lots (1544.4 per year).
It may not seem so, but the decade ending this year has seen the fewest subdivision approvals; 58 since the beginning of 2011 with a total of 5972 lots approved. Those new subdivisions are getting bigger, averaging 103 lots per development since 2011.
And we predict a spike in applications since the number of houses in the development pipeline has decreased. In February, a little less than eight months ago, there were 23 subdivisions, already approved, in various stages of construction with 2056 lots to market. That is according to Ascension’s Planning Staff.
Earlier this month the number of lots to market had dwindled to 779 in 9 subdivisions. Get ready for more subdivision preliminary plats. With two brand new Planning Commissioners (Robert Hodgson and Richard Carmouche) about to be sworn in, how pro-development (or not) will the commission be?