Who didn’t see this coming? When Ascension’s Parish Council, meeting as Planning Commission Appeals Board on February 15, referred Oak Grove Townhouses back to the commission which had denied the plat on November 8, 2017, the die was cast. And, seven come eleven, Dantin Bruce Development was a winner (naturally) on Wednesday because Planning Commissioner Tony Christy changed his vote from a November “nay” to an inexplicable “yea.”
The clueless Commissioner did not bother to explain his change of heart. Christy joined Commissioners Matthew Pryor and Morrie Bishop who voted to approve Oak Grove Townhouses in November; Julio Dumas, who was absent then, was the fourth majority vote.
Roberts Rules of Order, Planning Commission by-laws, Ascension’s Unified Land Development Code, Home Rule Charter…whatever? When Dantin Bruce’s mouthpiece concocted its argument that his client had been denied a non-existent right to “rebuttal” back in November, and District 7 Councilman Aaron Lawler gave credence to the “tenuous argument” (Lawler’s words), the deal was done, the fix was in. The Council’s 7-2 vote to refer Oak Grove Townhouses back to Planning…
was pursuant to Lawler’s motion.
Then he arranged a meeting between Dantin Bruce and unhappy residents of Willow Lake subdivision in the interim. The developer agreed to put up six-figures (it sounds like more than the $100,000 actually committed somehow) toward a solution to Willow Lake’s existing drainage concerns. According to Dantin Bruce’s Ross Bruce his engineers have “analyzed” Willow Lakes’ problems concluding its lake has insufficient storage capacity for rainfall.
“We’re willing to stipulate in the approval of this preliminary plat, within 30 days of us closing on the land, we will put up $100,000 to whatever entity is deemed appropriate to get this work done,” assured Ross Bruce.
Who’s going to deem the appropriate entity? The commission didn’t get that far.
The solution discussed on Wednesday was removal and replacement of a weir at Charleston Road to regulate water levels in Willow Lake’s lake, creating additional storage capacity. The $100,000 could also go toward installing larger culverts underneath Willow Lake Blvd. All for $100,000?
On November 6, 2017 (two days before Oak Grove Townhouses’ original denial) Drainage Director Bill Roux budgeted $5,650,000 to remove the New River weir behind Walmart in the City of Gonzales during a meeting of East Ascension Drainage Board.
“$100,000 is a nice gesture on the part of Dantin Bruce,” said an obviously frustrated Planning Commissioner Wade Schexnaydre. “It just might pay for the engineering fees to design that replacement weir. I have no idea where the balance is coming from and neither does anyone else who attended tonight’s meeting.”
Schexnaydre’s perplexity was multiplied by the fact that Commissioner Julio Dumas, who was not present on November 8, came armed with a prepared motion to approve Oak Grove Townhouses. Schexnaydre’s substitute motion to deny was defeated by the same 4-3 vote (see above) which would approve Dumas’ lengthy, pre-prepared motion only seconds later.
“The Council referred this matter back to us for the purpose of giving the developer a rebuttal period, but everything presented tonight was new information having to do with some off-site drainage which should never have been considered in the first place,” Schexnaydre would later say. “This sets a dangerous precedent and opens a Pandora’s Box. Any developer who’s denied in the future only has to waive some cash at neighboring property owners and they get another crack at approval.”
At Schexnaydre’s request Legal Adviser Cody Martin confirmed that no entitlement to a rebuttal period exists in Planning procedures. The critical commissioner enumerated a number of reasons for his November vote to deny; a faulty Traffic Impact Study chief among them.
Absent five months ago, Commissioner Julio Dumas did not bother to address those issues when jumping to the microphone to move for approval of Oak Grove Townhouses. Dumas, as pro-development as any Planning Commissioner in Ascension’s history, conditioned his approval motion on Dantin Bruce’s placing $100,000 in escrow for the benefit of Willow Lake. Incredibly, Dumas tasked Willow Lake residents with ensuring those drainage improvements are accomplished, urging them to keep the pressure on local officials.
Ten members of the Parish Council do not represent the residents of Willow Lake, so how they are going to apply the necessary pressure is anyone’s guess. Julio Dumas did not bother to explain it. Willow Lake lies in District 7 where Aaron Lawler bested Tony Christy (and three others including Commissioner Ken Firmin) at the ballot box on October 24, 2015.
According to The Advocate; “Councilman Aaron Lawler, who represents the area and facilitated the meetings between the developer and Willow Lake residents, said after the vote Wednesday that the parish would be moving forward with the drainage repairs.”
Oh, yeah? When was that unknown, as yet unknowable amount of taxpayer dollars appropriated by East Ascension Drainage Board and the Parish Council? What’s the timetable for for making those drainage repairs?
What would the constituents of District 5 (Dempsey Lambert) and District 6 (Randy Clouatre) where August 2016 flooding wrought the worst devastation think about all this? We suspect they would all agree with Commissioner Wade Schexnaydre.