A constant and longstanding criticism of Ascension Parish Government, leveled by citizens adversely affected, is the failure to enforce its development code against non-compliant individuals and/or entities. That may be changing if two recently filed lawsuits are any indication. Most recently the Parish of Ascension sought injunctions against one St. Amant property owner alleged to have violated development code items enacted in 2021; the other targets a five-acre tract derisively referred to as Pookey Lane by critics.
“I am delighted to see our three parish governing officials working collaboratively to solve a problem that’s been ongoing for a decade or more,” responded Councilwoman Teri Casso whose District 8 includes the subject acreage. “Situated as it is, the front door to our parish, the state of this property leaves a terrible first impression on visitors to Ascension.”
DA Ricky Babin, Sheriff Bobby Webre and Ascension Parish Government are named party-plaintiffs in the Petition for Preliminary Injunction to Abate Maintenance of a Nuisance. All declined to comment, letting the pleadings speak for themselves.
Wedged into the southwest corner of the I-10/Hwy 73 intersection, Pookey Lane’s five acres lie north of the recently widened C Braud Road where land comes at a premium. Zoned Mixed Use Corridor (the least restrictive commercial category in Ascension’s zoning toolbox), the acreage could bring a pretty penny if the owners (Merrill and Theresa Braud, both nonagenarians) put it on the market.
On Monday the Brauds issued the following statement through their attorney, Julie Quinn.
“My clients are working with Ascension Parish to remedy code violations and address all concerns. The catalyst for the parish’s lawsuit stems from alleged illegal activity of certain residents at the property, whom my clients have been actively evicting now that the COVID eviction prohibition has been lifted. Unfortunately, during COVID, my clients’ hands were tied and they were prevented from expeditiously evicting persons regardless of the reason.
“My clients are working with Ascension Parish to determine the best path forward for all parties, and are eager to make the property safe and in full compliance with code regulations now that those barriers are removed. We would hope that the parish addresses all properties in Ascension Parish with the same level of scrutiny, and not just single out this particular parcel noted for its prime location and attraction for commercial developers.”
The petition alleges:
- Defendants are operating a non-conforming mobile home/travel trailer/recreational vehicle campground at the property. The property is populated by scattered vehicles, structures and trailers. The utilities at the property are substandard in electrical, plumbing and sewer.
- Notice of violation was sent to the defendants on June 16, 2022.
- All of the tenants at the property are renters and/or squatters permitted to remain at the property by the defendants and their agents.
- The tenants are maintaining a nuisance by actively engaging in ongoing illegal prohibited activity in violation of criminal law.
The alleged criminal activity includes “drug use, drug manufacturing, theft, burglary, prostitution and murder.” Included with the pleadings is a log of police callouts since July of 2021 which, the plaintiffs assert, “establishes a rebuttable presumption of prohibited activity at the property and maintenance of a nuisance…The list of illegal activity creates a public nuisance by defendants knowingly permitting prohibited activity.”
“Defendants knowingly permit theft, burglary, drug possession, drug sales and/or drug manufacturing, murder and prostitution to be conducted…at the property, either individually and/or through their officers, agents, representatives.”
Plaintiffs are seeking “an Order of Abatement closing the premises located at 36600 Pookey Lane, Prairieville for a period of five years. Evidenced by a list of police call-out reports…
plaintiffs also seek attorney fees and court costs in addition to “specific damages…in the form of increased police presence, code enforcement and prosecutions due to the maintenance of a nuisance and known illegal activity at 36600 Pookey Lane, Prairieville.” Additionally, the lawsuit cites Ascension’s Unified Land Development Code provision whereby “(N)o mobile home park shall be altered, extended or constructed…without” compliance to the code subjects the defendants to civil penalty.
“Defendants have continually had the presence of abandoned or inoperative vehicles and white goods on private property which is a public nuisance violation” of Ascension’s Code of Ordinances…The sewerage on the property is nonconforming and illegal thereby creating a public health hazard…Recreational vehicles are not allowed to operate as a dwelling.”
There is, according to the petition, more:
- Sewer from travel trailers leaked on the ground;
- Water cross-contaminated with sewage;
- Servitude/setback requirements are ignored;
- Multiple travel trailers obtain power via extension cords;
- Multiple travel trailers share a single meter for power;
- Campers, trailers, buildings within a foot of each without fire-resistant measures in place;
- Litter in the form of appliances, equipment, furniture as well as abandoned vehicles and trailers.
The lawsuit, filed on October 24, 2022, has been amended twice. The latest was on December 5 when plaintiffs asserted that “Defendants counsel assures that extraordinary measures are being taken to remedy the health and safety concerns at the subject property.” Despite those efforts, “planning and zoning violations remain.”
A hearing has been scheduled for February 2 when the merits of plaintiffs’ petition will be adjudicated.