Casso’s last minute changes water down TIA ordinance, subdivision moratorium coming to end

District 8 Councilwoman Teri Casso

On Thursday Ascension’s Parish Council adopted the last piece of legislation among two “batches” worth of proposed ordinances justifying the moratorium on subdivisions.  Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) required of every major/minor subdivision was codified, heightening certain requirements in what has long been mere policy, but only after last minute negotiations between two members.  St. Amant’s Chase Melancon deemed it “a pretty good landing spot” when he and Councilwoman Teri Casso were both “about 70% happy.”

“It was very important for me to protect family partitions,” Melancon explained a willingness to compromise.  “It was very important for her constituents to be able to build in the Dutchtown area.”

For all the insipid pablum about Ascension being “one parish,” this “good compromise” evidences the dissimilarities and divergence between the areas encompassed in their respective council districts (not to mention Prairieville, Gonzales Darrow, Acy, Donaldsonville, Modeste…)  Casso and Councilman Aaron Lawler having threatened the sacrosanctity of family partitions in recent months, Melancon was outmaneuvered.

The compromise necessitated last minute revisions to a document first revealed to Ascension’s Planning Commission in February.  One commissioner deemed the original version “a de facto moratorium” due to hyper-stringent application of Level of Service requirements.  Councilwoman Casso made the motion to change that harsh language which could have left developers scrambling to find developable land in Dutchtown or anywhere else in north Ascension Parish.

The compromise was good enough.  No one objected as the TIA ordinance was adopted by acclimation.  Two members (Corey Orgeron, unsurprisingly after having been convicted of Simple Battery on Wednesday, and Travis Turner) were absent.

The operative provisions in Section 17-4060 of the Development Code, amended by Councilwoman Casso before the vote included Paragraph D(3)(h) which had read (red text denotes language removed pursuant to Casso’s amendment):

Capacity analysis. Capacity analyses provide an indication of how well the study area intersections serve existing and future traffic demands. A description of the methodology and Level of Service (LOS) definitions shall be included within the TIA. For existing and future conditions, LOS at all study intersections, inclusive of the site access locations, shall be calculated for signalized and unsignalized intersections using procedures contained in the Highway Capacity Manual. The LOS and delay shall be reported for each turning movement at each approach, each overall approach, and the overall intersection as applicable in tabular format. Capacity analysis documentation shall be included in the TIA appendix. The objective shall be to maintain or improve the existing LOS. A minimum LOS “D” shall be required for all approaches and movements for each intersection within the study area, including site access locations. The LOS of an intersection shall be the lowest LOS of any one approach or movement of such intersection (e.g., one approach or movement is LOS “D” and another approach or movement is LOS “E,” then the overall intersection LOS shall be “E”). Where LOS “D” is not existing or the existing LOS cannot be achieved with improvements or mitigation, a description of impacts, constraints, mitigation measures analyzed, and results shall be provided.

Requiring each leg of an intersection within the TIA study area to be LOS “D” or better for subdivision preliminary plat approval would have affected just about every intersection in what has come to be called “Prairieville.”

Casso’s amendments also targeted 17-4060(G)(2) which would have required denial of any proposed subdivision which “negatively impacts the safety of the roadway, or if any leg or other element within the proposed development area is below the adopted Level of Service (LOS) ‘D’.”

The change watered down what could have operated as “a de facto moratorium” on residential subdivisions in much of East Ascension.  Councilman Melancon would point out that the governing authority had already adopted measures to restrict subdivisions to roadways at least 20 feet wide…

Map of all the roads in Ascension less than 20′ in width (as of June 2020)

a not insignificant restriction.  Additionally, the parish will hire the engineering firms to conduct Traffic Impact Analyses going forward, addressing another common criticism.

With codification of Section 17-4060 of the Development Code accomplished, a proposed extension of the subdivision moratorium through June was rendered moot; which did not stop Councilwoman Casso from offering a “motion to move the ordinance,” eliciting a perplexed group murmur among her colleagues.

“Oh, that’s right.  I’m sorry.  That one’s over,” she wrapped up a lengthy process.

The moratorium is set to expire at the end of May.