Council adopts all development revisions except Traffic Impact Analysis

A unanimous Parish Council, sans Councilman Corey Orgeron who exited Wednesday’s Special Meeting due purported health issues, adopted 20 of 21 proposed revisions to Ascension’s land development code.  Intended to prevent adverse drainage/traffic impact by new subdivision development, a moratorium was enacted on June 17 (effective July 15) in order to prevent any new development while the governing authority considered the strengthened regulatory scheme.  The Council’s work is nearly done, with a single item deferred until its next two regularly-scheduled meetings.

Among the new bodies of ordinances…

  • Batch 1– to amend the Unified Land Development Code, Appendix II – Development Code Section 17-2082-B Fence Requirements and Appendix IV – Subdivision Regulations, Sections 17-405 – Preliminary Plat Procedure, 17-4021 – Large Scale Development, 17-4032 – Street Requirements,17-4032-B – Access and Connectivity, 17-4037 – Servitudes (Utilities and Drainage) Requirements, 17-4039 Block Requirements, and 17-4060 Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) and 17-2011 – Definitions
  • Batch 2-to amend the Ascension Parish Unified Land Development Code Appendix IV – Subdivision Regulations, Section 17-4044 – Drainage Requirements, 17-4045 – Drainage Design Criteria, 17-4050 – Servitude Revocation, 17-506 – Protection of Existing Watersheds and Conveyance Systems, 17-506.1 – Development in the Floodplain, 17-506.2 – Wetland Preservation, 17-507 – Placement of Fill, 17-5012 – Stormwater Conveyance Systems, 17-5013 – Design Criteria, 17-5014- Drainage Servitudes, 17-5094 – Implementation of September 2019 Changes, 17-40100 – Definitions, and Attachment B. Drainage Impact Study Procedure

all were approved except 17-4060 Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA).

The newly-proposed codification of Traffic Impact Analysis for new development was struck from the body of  law enacted on Wednesday, with the condition that a reformed text be introduced on May 5, a Public Hearing and vote to follow on May 19.  Considered by certain members to be the most consequential of revisions, it was Councilman Aaron Lawler who raised concerns about the new law’s application in two respects (see below).

Kendig Keast Collaborative presented Batch 1 to Ascension’s Planning Commission which recommended approval to the Council in February.  Batch 2 was recommended by Planning during its March meeting.  The Sugarland, Texas firm continues to work through the Unified Land Development Code with a recommended overhaul expected to come within a year or so.

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

What the practical effect on subdivision development will be remains to be seen.

Seemingly straightforward is the new verbiage in 17-4032, which currently prohibits subdivision development with ingress/egress from/onto a roadway less than 18 feet in width.  Once effective the new 17-4032 A. Density Restrictions, will read:

  1. No major or minor subdivision generating 40 or more peak hour trips, as defined by ITE trip generation estimates pursuant to Section 17-4060 D.3.e shall be developed on any street that is less than 20 feet in pavement width.  The Department of Public Works will determine the average width of the road by measuring from pavement edge to pavement edge, every 50 feet between two roads that are identified in Appendix 8 of the ULDC-Major Street Plan or the Master Transportation Plan, whichever is most current.

The new law will not apply to any “division of property of eight or less of the parent tract” so long as all “drainage and sewage facilities” are regularly maintained.

One glaring issue, Section 17-4060 does not yet exist, having been removed from consideration on Wednesday at the urging of Councilwoman Teri Casso who took up the concerns raised by her most constant council ally, Lawler.  Currently, the Traffic Impact Analysis procedure is done pursuant to an appendix to the development code, a mere policy without the full effect of codified law.  What happens if the Council fails to adopt the newly-drafted Traffic Impact Analysis law next month?

The moratorium, initially nine months in duration and set to expire on April 17, was extended through May to accommodate council action.

Lawler raised two issues for further deliberation, applicability of TIA to Family Partitions first.  According to the Prairieville council member those partitions have accounted for 26% of all new homes constructed in Ascension Parish since 2012, intimating that Family Partitions should be subject to the newly-proposed Traffic Impact Analysis too.

District 6 Councilman Chase Melancon

St. Amant’s own Councilman Chase Melancon, who represents a district where the sacrosanctity of the Family Partition is beyond questioning, pushed back.

Melancon’s numbers went back to January 2016, a six-year period in which 481 lots (only 8.4% of the total) were developed via the family partition and/or simple subdivision of property procedure, compared to 5,193 lots “approved in minor and major subdivisions.”  On average, according to the District 6 representative, Family Partitions create 2.8 lots on 4.6 acres.

“So, we’re not exactly creating a whole lot of traffic there,” Melancon concluded.

Enter Councilwoman Casso.

“It seems to me we should defer this piece until we have all of that discussion,” she demurred.  “And, then, let’s address this and see if we can fix it all at one time.  Would you agree, Aaron?”

Lawler did agree.

Councilwoman Casso claimed to have inquired “months ago” about the Family Partition statistics.  It was Casso who insisted on extending the moratorium to family partitions last June so that “everyone” could “share the pain.”

“I don’t want this moratorium expiring with this still lingering,” Councilman Michael Mason opposed the delay, at least initially.

Casso’s motion to defer Section 17-4060 to the May 5 regularly-scheduled meeting for introduction, then a May 19 public hearing and vote, was approved without objection.

Councilman Lawler also raised concerns over a single clause in the new TIA text.  The operative provision, Paragraph G (2) reads:

A proposed development that is subject to the TIA requirements of this Section shall be denied when the results of the required TIA demonstrate that the proposed development will overburden the existing roadway system by causing a reduction in service of affected roadways, 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 “D.”  In the case where the existing Level of Service (LOS) is below “D,” the required mitigating improvements shall improve all approaches, legs, or any elements within the development area to an LOS of “D” or better.  An applicant, in coordination with the Director, may modify the development proposal to reduce traffic impacts…

Lawler objected to a single subparagraph:

d.  Eliminate the potential for additional traffic generation from undeveloped properties in the vicinity of the proposed development.

His purported reason, the slowing of traffic on major highways, had the feeling of a ruse concocted by one of the most convoluted brains ever to (dis)grace Ascension’s governing authority.  Luckily, Corey Orgeron had already left Wednesday’s meeting.