Commission denies subdivision proposed on Roddy/Cannon roads

Ross Berthelot (s)mugging for the camera (September 2016)

Amalfi Coast in Italy is world renowned for its mysterious grottos, spectacular cliffs, and shimmering bay.  Amalfi Cove is the 105-lot subdivision on 35.7 acres along one of the most substandard roads in Ascension Parish…Cannon Road near its intersection with Roddy Road.  Four Planning Commissioners voted to deny its preliminary plat at Wednesday’s meeting with developer Ross Berthelot, among the smuggest we’ve encountered, promising an appeal to the Parish Council.

Any development along Cannon Road, as narrow as any in the parish save Hwy 930 where the commission approved Jamestown Crossing, Phases I and II in May, could be seen as irresponsible.  The developer’s Traffic Impact Analysis concluded the need for a traffic signal at the intersection of Roddy Road and Black Bayou Road.  The latter is a state highway meaning Louisiana’s DOTD would have to approve and install the signal which has been discussed (and denied) for some time.

In the bag for developers like always, Commissioner Julio Dumas crafted a series of contingencies/conditions for approval in another tortuous motion seconded by that other development sycophant on the commission, Morrie Bishop.  Dumas’ contingencies included:

  • That the traffic signal described above “be fully functional” prior to any construction
  • That Ross Berthelot’s company use Cannon as an outlet instead of Roddy and widen a section of Cannon to parish standards for new roads
  • That the Parish Council agree to grant Berthelot a credit against his development’s Transportation Impact Fee obligation

Which raised an assortment of problems.

Most notably, DOTD controls installation of the traffic signal recommended by Dumas.  Planning Director Jerome Fournier pointed out that Cannon Road is not on the list of roads approved by the Council for receipt of Impact Fee dollars.   Berthelot claimed that Ascension’s development code does not allow access onto Cannon anyway.

Four commissioners would not go for it, eventually voting to deny Amalfi Cove.  Dumas, Bishop, and the chairman, Matthew Pryor would have approved.

Ross Berthelot, air of entitlement on full display, promised an appeal to the Planning Commission Appeals Board which is composed of all 11 members of the Parish Council.

“They’ll punt,” Chairman Pryor blurted out; meaning the Council will decline to hear Amalfi Cove’s appeal and ask the Commission to reconsider its preliminary plat.

That’s exactly what the governing authority did the last time a four-vote majority denied a preliminary plat in November 2017…

RECONSIDERATION of once denied Oak Grove Townhouses: The fix is in.

Oak Grove Townhouses is the development within the boundaries of Councilman Aaron Lawler’s District 7, and it was Lawler who moved to send it back to the Planning Commission which reversed itself in March.

“Certainly, we’re not admitting there were any irregularities (with Oak Grove Townhouses’ denial).  But I am recommending that we move it back to the Planning Commission to prevent any further issues.  They did get to provide answers to questions,” Lawler confirmed.  “They weren’t given a rebuttal period, and specifically rebut anything they wanted to rebut.  It’s a tenuous argument.”

It was much weaker than a tenuous argument.  There is NO entitlement to a rebuttal period and Planning Director Jerome Fournier ensured Lawler and the gang that Oak Grove Townhouse’s developer, Dantin Bruce Development, had been afforded unlimited opportunity to “rebut” anything they chose.  Maybe not in a formal “rebuttal period” but only because it does not exist in Ascension’s development code.

Sent back to the commission for reconsideration Julio Dumas and Councilman Lawler assisted in the concoction of the most preposterous plat approval in recent memory, and that is saying something.  Dumas’ motion for Oak Grove Townhouses’ approval in March focused on off-site drainage problems at a neighboring subdivision:

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 onlybe 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.

The money has been placed in escrow but nothing has been, or ever will be, done to remedy the drainage problem.  Having declared her intention to challenge Councilman Lawler on Election Day, October 12, 2019, Kim Christy was on hand at Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting to urge rescission of Oak Grove Townhouses’ preliminary plat.  Since no Final Plat has been submitted since the March approval, Section 14-405 (H) of the Unified Land Development Code empowers the commission to do so.

Christy read a letter from Ascension’s Planning Department to residents of Willow Lake:

“The parish has determined that this matter is private and between the property owners within the Willow Lake Subdivision, the Homeowners Association, and Dantin Bruce Development.  The parish will not be involved in the drainage discussions beyond the approval of the preliminary plat for Oak Grove Townhouses which occurred on March 14, 2018.”

No action was taken by the Commission.