Approving subdivision plats with conditions will end up costing the parish

Planning Commission Chairman Matthew Pryor

One of the perplexing practices of Ascension’s Planning Commission, preliminary plat approvals subject to whimsical conditions placed upon development has led to numerous misunderstandings over the years.  Consider Riverton Subdivision, approved on March 9, 2016 when elements of the parish’s Uniform Land Development Code were disregarded to approve 780 lots on Hwy 22 in Darrow.  It exemplifies the problems arising from the practice intended by a pro-development commission eager to placate developers.

There are numerous other examples.

Riverton’s requisite Traffic Impact Study (less rigorous than the current version) called for onerous road improvements to mitigate adverse impact so…the requirement was ignored.  The condition, concocted by former Planning Commissioner Morrie Bishop (as unabashedly pro-development as any), required another Traffic Impact Study after Riverton’s second filing.  Since the developer (SLC, LLC) was allowed to completely reconfigure its preliminary plat application on the very day of its hearing, nobody seemed all that sure when that condition would be triggered.

Fast forward five years and a day, and SLC is ready to begin building homes.  Having expended quite a lot of money to construct intra-development roads and other basic infrastructure, SLC is ready to recoup that investment by selling houses.  On Wednesday the commission considered the first of ten Final Plats from SLC and the meeting packet generated by Ascension’s Planning Staff read:

“There is also a requirement that the applicant provide an updated traffic study when 478 residential lots have been developed. This is set to occur (under current configuration) between the 6th and 7th filings.

Commissioner Aaron Chaisson led the discussion which cleaned up the record; a new Traffic Impact Study is required after 168 lots are developed, after Riverton’s 2nd Filing.  The discourse was intended “to ensure no misunderstanding between staff and the commission.”

Whenever Riverton is required to conduct a new Traffic Impact Study, it will conclude much the same as the one ignored back in March 2015.  Traffic congestion is a problem now as it was then, probably worse.  Does anyone expect the developer (Grady Melancon owns SLC) to willingly pony up all the dollars necessary to build whatever mitigation measures are called for in the next traffic study?

  • Will Riverton’s next Traffic Impact Study be subject to the current, more stringent procedures adopted by the Parish Council in 2018?
  • When SLC, millions of dollars invested in a 20% completed subdivision, balks at the additional millions to construct traffic mitigation measures will the Planning Commission deny the last eight Final Plat filings?

If you think Melancon won’t attempt to escape the vast expenditure you simply haven’t been paying attention over the decades.

Two roundabouts will have been constructed on Hwy 44, assuming Louisiana DOTD can accomplish…

DOTD expropriates property for Hwy 44 roundabout; property owner responds by obstructing view of roadway

Subsequent to Riverton’s preliminary plat approval a roundabout on Hwy 44 providing ingress/egress to Conway Subdivision (east of Hwy 44) and Oak Lake (west of Hwy 44) is operational.  Which could cushion the blow of a new Traffic Impact Study, but still…

Oak Lake’s December 2015 preliminary plat approval is another example of the problems concomitant with conditional Planning Commission approvals (Conway lies within the city limits of Gonzales).  Its 163 lots were broken up into three phases with the condition that no lots would be sold in the final phase unless the roundabout (or a turn lane) was built and operational to afford ingress.  The Planning Commission held firm, even as the developer sought to void the condition on several occasions.

Which is not the case in too many instances.

Also on Wednesday’s Planning Commission agenda was a Major Revision to the preliminary plat of Pelican Crossing, Phases 4-6.  Approved in May of 2015, the developer continues to haggle with the commission and residents of the subdivision across Hwy 44 from Pelican Point.  Wednesday’s hearing concerned the elimination of a detention pond after the local Base Flood Elevation was lowered by a foot, freeing up eight acres to accommodate 24 additional lots.

FUN FACT: The Major Revision is elimination of the pond, not 24 new lots which is less than 10% of the 349 lots originally approved.  The new lots are a Minor Revision according to Ascension’s Land Development Code.  Riverton could add 78 lots and it would be a Minor Revision, escaping Planning Commission scrutiny.

Pelican Crossing’s developer did not even have to perform a traffic study in 2015, conditioned upon paying for design of a roundabout on Hwy 44.  It escaped that condition when DOTD decided it was going to build a J-turnaround which eventually became the roundabout described in the imbedded link above.

Arguably more problematic than Riverton’s conditional approval, Oak Grove Townhouses’ preliminary plat was initially denied by the Commission in November of 2017.  Ascension’s Parish Council, led by the District 7 representative whose district includes the development, declined to consider an appeal and sent the plat back to Planning for Reconsideration.  In March 2018 a 4-2 denial became a 4-3 approval with the most convoluted condition ever imposed on a plat.

Commissioner Julio Dumas’ pre-drafted conditions and/or contingencies for Oak Grove Townhouses approval

Courtesy of Commissioner Julio Dumas, absent when the plat had been denied, Oak Grove Townhouses was approved with the condition:

“Prior to signing the final plat by the Chairman of the Planning Commission, the applicant must establish an escrow account for the amount determined by a registered civil engineer, not to exceed 100,000 US Dollars, for the sole purpose of adjusting the height of the weir and provide other drainage related improvements under the control of Willow Lake… Funds may only be used by Willow Lake subdivision.

The escrow account must be available for a period not exceed 24 months from the date the final plat is executed and recorded.  In the event Willow Lake fail(s) to complete the lowering of the weir within those 24 months the developer may close  the escrow account and recoup his funds, and shall be relieved of any further obligation.

None of which has occurred and the developer, Dantin-Bruce, will get its money back if it hasn’t already.

In September 2018 two subdivisions (Highland Trace and Lake at West Creek) were approved even though Level of Service on relevant roadways were rated “F” (the worst on the scale).  Dumas’ motion was:

“…to approve this preliminary subdivision plat consistent with the ordinance prohibiting any issuance of any certificate of occupancies (sic) on this development until such time as either the round-a-bout is completed and operational or there is a traffic signal light at this intersection (Germany Road and Braud Road) that has been constructed and put into operation and incorporated into the traffic signal system of the Parish.”

The only parish-owned and operated traffic signal (at the intersection of Braud and Germany Roads)

FUN TRIVIA:  Where is the only traffic signal owned and operated by Ascension Parish?

There were no traffic signals operated by Ascension Parish until the one installed at the intersection of Braud and Germany Roads to satisfy the plat condition.  The developer, Ross Berthelot, offered up the cash to install the signal in order to begin selling houses.  And Ascension Parish got into the traffic signal business.

Most recently there was Windermere Crossing.

You want to stop Windermere Crossing Subdivision? Here’s how to do it.

The approval was conditioned upon widening a small stretch of Cannon Road (from Roddy to O’Neal) to 18′.  It would do nothing at all to mitigate traffic on one of Ascension’s narrowest roads, arguably making Cannon more unsafe than it is now.  Ridiculous.

We would be remiss without mentioning (not honorably) Jamestown Crossing.

First Anniversary: Jamestown Crossing preliminary plat approval

The list could have been much longer.