Commissioner Ken Firmin changes vote to approve (once denied) Delaune Estates

Another packed house to oppose Delaune Estates, but…

What has changed since Antebellum Pointe subdivision was denied by a 4-3 vote of Ascension’s Planning Commission on March 11, 2020?  Enough to garner approval of the re-branded Delaune Estates, the same 237 lots planned west of Hwy 73, south of White Road in Prairieville.  A roomful of residents went home unhappy on Wednesday when the one-vote denial became a one-vote approval over the impassioned opposition by dozens of public speakers.

So what changed?

  1. There was an updated Traffic Study, this one with speculative traffic counts but generated after Interstate 10’s widening from Prairieville to Highland Road in Baton Rouge.  Aside from the development’s lawyer, nobody seemed all that confident in the new study (including Louisiana’s DOTD).
  2. The Planning Commission itself has changed as three members (Wade Schexnaydre, Tony Christy and Morrie Bishop) resigned since March 11, 2020.  Two of them made up half of the vote to deny Antebellum Pointe 16 months ago, Bishop made up a third of the minority side.
  3. The Parish Council rejected an appeal, triggering a lawsuit that is going nowhere fast.  The Council would vote to settle the suit by allowing the development in April, only to see President Clint Cointment exercise the veto.

Lawler switches sides for 6-5 approval of Delaune Estates (Antebellum Pointe)

None of which truly explains Wednesday’s vote to approve.  What really changed was Planning Commissioner Ken Firmin’s mind.

Firmin was part of the majority denying Antebellum Pointe along with current Commissioner Aaron Chaisson and former commissioners Schexnaydre and Christy.  From the official meeting minutes for the March 11, 2020:

Ken Firmin: He thinks it is a great project for later.  Says it is not good timing right now.  He said in a couple of years when things are more developed on LA 73 and the interstate we will know what that looks like and that would be a good time to bring this development back up.

On Wednesday Firmin had very little to say about Delaune Estates‘ preliminary plat submission.  He seconded Commissioner Julio Dumas’ motion to approve, and he cast the Yea vote electronically…and that was that.

It did not matter that Chaisson engaged Engineering Review Agent Shaun Sherrow in a lengthy discussion concerning the new Traffic Study’s validity on Wednesday.  It mattered less that dozens of public speakers pleaded with the commission, regardless of their arguments.

Two commissioners, Shannon Hutchings and Robert Hodgson, were absent so it was going to take three votes to win the day.  Chairman Matthew Pryor and Commissioner Dumas were going to be votes of approval, of that there was no doubt.  New commissioner Michael Varnado’s brief tenure includes multiple subdivision rejections and it was no surprise that he sided with Chaisson in the “DENY” column on Wednesday.

It was always going to come down to Ken Firmin’s vote.  And it did.

Delaune Estates was approved.