Moratorium on new subdivisions tabled indefinitely
“It was deja vu, all over again,” (to quote the great Yogi Berra) as Ascension’s Parish Council reached back a decade to adopt the same transportation impact fee ordinance which failed by one vote ten years ago. Requiring an eight vote super-majority, Thursday’s unanimous Council enacted the fees over vocal opposition mounted by a contingent of builders and real estate agents. The ordinance applies to all new construction in Ascension Parish after the requisite two week public notice requirement for a new ordinance elapses.
“On July 22, 2005 Duncan & Associates completed a transportation impact study,” legal counsel O’Neil Parenton read from the ordinance’s preamble.
And it is that study upon which the 2016 version of impact fees is premised. The impact fee ordinance introduced at the March 17 Council meeting, a product of two+ years of study by an Impact Fee Exploratory Subcommittee and recommended to the Council by Parish President Kenny Matassa, was scrapped, not discussed or even mentioned, Thursday.
Councilman Bill Dawson detailed the specifics of the old ordinance, made new again.
Duncan’s fee recommendations from 2006 were adopted, along with a clause which mandates an updated study within six months, and every five years thereafter. Duncan estimated the fees would generate $2 million annually back then. Fees shall be assessed parish-wide.
“There are three Benefit Districts,” said Dawson; “Which is where the money is collected and where the money is spent.”
The districts include north East-bank Ascension, south East-bank Ascension, and West-bank Ascension. The exploratory subcommittee’s recommendation of five impact fee zones was scrapped with the rest of its proposal.
The fees are triggered by issuance of a building permit for any lot. Any collected fees which are not spent within eight years must be returned to the current owner of the property subject to such fees.
“Public facilities are included in the ordinance. There are no exceptions for any impact generating facilities,” Dawson noted one change to the originally proposed ordinance which exempted schools.
Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee, whose ardent support of impact fees is well known, has long argued against the school exemption. Satterlee, Bill Dawson and Aaron Lawler were the only Council members to discuss the fees on Thursday.
“There has been little to demonstrate that the imposition of impact fee systems have stifled development,” Satterlee quoted a 1997 American Planning Association policy guide. “Contrary to conventional wisdom, that impact fees increase development cost and impede economic development, the office reported that implementation of impact fee systems actually does the opposite.”
Satterlee’s theory is that worsening infrastructure shortcomings will eventually dissuade newcomers from settling down in Ascension Parish. Traffic congestion, drainage problems, etc. will become “so unbearable that people in the Parish of Ascension will vote with their feet.”
“The media has covered this a lot and the public has been informed,” Satterlee countered criticism from the development contingent; one of whom has spoken before numerous committees and always against the fees. “I think the public needs to know, that individual was on the Impact Fee Exploratory Subcommittee that met for two years…Clearly, he is against them.”
A lone member of that subcommittee, Mississippi’s Billy Aguillard, was on hand to object Thursday, though he was joined by Capital Region Builders Association’s propaganda machine. And while Doc Satterlee did not call him out by name, Aguillard, the last of five anti-Impact Fee speakers, was clearly his target.
“What I would challenge you to do here is, if you think everybody wants this, put it on the ballot and let the people vote for it,” was Billy “the Builder” Aguillard’s last resort.
He questioned the legality of a Council vote “since the amended ordinance” had never been published. Which is not quite true since it was published ten years ago before failing by that single vote.
Aguillard, who has done everything in his power to subvert, delay, or kill impact fees outright, continued to insist the fees are a tax.
Not even a last minute tutorial by Quality Engineering’s Deric Murphy, a favorite of President Matassa’s, could sufficiently prepare Billy Aguillard for the rhetorical battle at hand.
While Aguillard was not alone, Capital Region Builders had prepared their spin beforehand, the disinformation campaign fell on deaf Council ears. Bart Waguespack, a self-identified builder and four-year Ascension resident hit all the arguments, such as they were.
“I understand that people that have been in Ascension Parish, and lived in the same place forever, see a little more traffic in front of their yard; but I would also say that they get the luxury of enjoying the better schools we have in Ascension Parish, the new schools, restaurants that have moved in.”
“There’s a lot of things to do in Ascension Parish. We have a movie theater, a bowling alley, a Cabelas, a lot of restaurants, an outlet mall. All that is there because of new construction,” Waguespack failed to recognize that four of these amenities are located within the City of Gonzales where these impact fees will not be assessed.
“It’s punishing new construction, new people moving into the parish whenever they’re contributing more than anyone else to the sales taxes that are paid, to the property taxes that they pay for their houses…New construction is bringing a lot of money into the parish…more than their fair share.”
“I’d just like to see the parish allot that money more appropriately.”
Waguespack and his development brethren failed to persuade Councilman Aaron Lawler and his colleagues.
Lawler noted similar arguments made by a builder who fought new subdivision regulations which required sidewalks, green space, trees and other amenities in 2013. Additional costs were going to kill the industry in Ascension, so the argument went.
That unidentified builder was none other than Billy Aguillard and his 2013 argument can be heard (39:38 into clip) at:
“Incredibly, average home prices also increased. Yet, we’re still selling more,” Lawler countered.
From 2013 to 2014 Ascension saw a 2.3% population increase; followed by another 2.1% increase by 2015.
“Ascension is the 89th fastest growing ‘county’ in the nation,” he added. “We need to do this (pass impact fees). It’s the right thing to do and I’m all for it.”
A second proposed ordinance, this one to impose a six month moratorium on major subdivisions on the east bank to allow the Council time to consider impact fees, was rendered moot and deferred indefinitely.