“Old Prairieville is gone, and it’s not coming back,” lamented an impassioned owner of 86 acres off Hwy 73 where Antebellum Pointe’s 237-lot subdivision was intended. But Ascension’s Planning Commission, by the all too familiar 4-3 vote, denied the subdivision preliminary plat on Wednesday. It was opposed by dozens of citizens and one newly-elected parish president during a spirited session in which tempers occasionally flared.
The decision hinged on adverse impact to area roadways, three intersections with Hwy 73 in particular, where traffic congestion already bedevils commuters on a daily basis. Level of Service (LOS), the metric by which traffic engineers assign wait times to traverse such intersections, are already worse than the ‘D’ found acceptable in the Traffic Impact Study procedure codified by Ascension’s Parish Council in June of 2018. To build any subdivision on such roads a developer cannot impair existing Level of Service, and must improve already deficient LOS.
Antebellum Pointe’s Traffic Impact Study maintained that LOS on Hwy 73 and its arterials would be improved sufficiently by completion of additional travel lanes on Interstate 10, especially where Hwy 73 intersects with Hwy 621 accessing an I-10 on ramp. Three Hwy 73 intersections (at Hwy 621, White/Duplessis roads, and Alice Braud/Post Office roads) would, according to Antebellum Pointe, be improved by changing signalization to three traffic lights though nobody could assure such improvements would meet Ascension’s more stringent requirements.
The decision to alter signalization is up to Louisiana DOTD which prioritizes the state road, Hwy 73. According to the parish’s Engineering Review Agent, DOTD:
1. There are approach roads operating below a LOS of D in future improved conditions for both AM and PM Peaks. Provide recommendations to bring LOS to down to D or better. A possible solution was provided but was based on signal timing options that DOTD would not recommend due to taking away green time from the higher classification roadway of La 73. (Emphasis in original).
The majority position was summarized:
“Under the new Traffic Impact policy you’re required to mitigate (adverse impact) to a (Level of Service) ‘D’ or better; and you can’t. You’re required to, not just suggest something, but implement something; and you can’t do that either without DOTD’s approval. And, even if they give you the approval it’s still gonna be below a ‘D’?”
Antebellum Pointe’s traffic engineer acceded to that argument which carried the day over that of Chairman Matthew Pryor. Pryor…
in a fit of pique, attempted a tortured legal interpretation of current Traffic Impact policy to justify approval. Reading the policy, he focused on its provision that a roadway with “an overall” LOS of ‘D’ or better shall be acceptable, assuming to know the Parish Council’s legislative intent by the use of “overall.” Even Pryor, for some reason emotionally invested in Antebellum Pointe’s approval, had to concede his colleagues’ discretionary authority to deny. (On Wednesday Pryor was joined in the minority by Julio Dumas and Morrie Bishop).
It was eerily reminiscent of…
when Chairman Pryor constructed, then jumped through, a series of loopholes in Ascension’s Uniform Land Development Code which states, “No major or minor subdivision may be developed on any street which is less than 18’ in pavement width.” Jamestown Crossing, sited on Hwy 930 which averaged 17.3 feet wide, was approved by a 4-3 vote in the same configuration as Wednesday except Ken Firmin switched sides.
How did Pryor explain that one?
“Does that mean the whole roadway needs to be wider than 18 feet? Does it mean an average? Or does it mean as long as there’s portions that are 18 feet wide it’s acceptable?”
Two current parish council members attended Wednesday’s hearing, neither of whom represents District 4 which includes the 86 acre tract up for debate. District 11’s Michael Mason argued that the preliminary plat was submitted prematurely because no one can say how I-10 improvements will affect Hwy 73 traffic. The District 4 representative, Corey Orgeron, was nowhere to be seen.
Ascension’s chief executive did appear. Following up on his letter to the Planning Commission, Parish President Clint Cointment would assert:
“As of today this plat does not meet the requirements for approval. That’s a fact. I’m asking you to deny based on those facts.”
Four commissioners agreed.