Ascension’s Planning Commission denied Brookstone, an 86-lot single-family residential development proposed on 28.76 acres off Parker Rd Wednesday. Its numbers reduced to four by natural attrition or resignation, a 3-1 Commission vote to deny Brookstone delighted neighboring residents and two Parish Councilmen who have long argued against unrestrained development.
Laboring under the misapprehension that planning commissioners lacked “discretionary authority” to deny new subdivision preliminary plats, Ascension’s seven-member Planning Commission approved one, then another, then another… an assembly line’s robotic arm, affixing its rubber-stamp to a succession of Major Subdivisions launched into Ascension’s “stream of commerce.”
“Which is something that’s been done by a lot of developers in our parish over the years,” said Chairman Matt Pryor, a master of understatement this evening; who added, “It’s the American way of life…making money on your property.”
“Our laws are designed specifically so that you can’t use your property, or any other part of your person or things, to hurt or damage somebody else,” Pryor went on. “I’m going to, reluctantly, vote to deny this preliminary plat until these drainage issues can get worked out and submitted back to the Planning Commission.”
According to Parish Engineer Rhonda Braud, drainage for the area adjoining Brookstone has been adversely affected by “seven or eight different plats” submitted by three different engineering firms in the recent past. Somewhere along the chain of developments there was a “miscalculation” and successive developments have, successively, worsened drainage.
Three subdivisions (Brookstone would be the fourth) occupy the same watershed and Braud recommended that Brookstone’s engineer cooperate with MR Engineering which drew the plans for Parker Place I and II, as well as Shadows of Ascension. Brookstone would close the circle of new subdivisions around Dawn Alleman’s property which is experiencing flooding like it never did before.
“I am not in a floodzone,” Alleman began her impassioned plea for Brookstone’s denial. “I do not require flood insurance.”
She is buying it anyway after seeing her family’s eight-year old shop flood three times since 2014.
“There is a real problem. We’re gonna lose everything if (developers) keep winning,” an emotional Alleman fought back tears. “And I’ve worked my whole life for this…my forever home” which is “threatened every time it rains.”
And several neighboring property owners expressed the same concerns, adding traffic congestion/road safety and school overcrowding to the list of grievances.
“Why must we bear all the negatives so someone from outside the parish can make money?” wondered Chris Charles.
Well, until last month the Commission perpetuated the erroneous belief that its hands were tied.
Legal Counsel Cody Martin informed the panel that it had authority to deny subdivision plats based on general “health, safety, and welfare” concerns at January’s meeting. That was six days after Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee implored Parish President Kenny Matassa to request an opinion from Louisiana’s Attorney General to resolve the issue.
Matassa has said the request was forwarded but Pelican Post’s informal request for a copy was denied.
“The request is the work product of the parish attorney and the District Attorney’s Office. When parish government receives an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office, the opinion will then become a public record,” reads the denial email from Ascension’s Public Information Officer.
The question has lingered, to Satterlee’s frustration, and he rose to speak during Wednesday’s Public Comment period, again insisting that “discretionary authority” exists to deny plats. He made the same argument back in August 2015, to no avail.
Even while Planning Director Ricky Compton recommended denial of three plats, writing for each:
“Until efforts are made by the Parish Council to address the explosive growth in the Parish, and the un-encumbered impact major subdivision development has on the regions traffic and sewer infrastructure, at this time the staff cannot recommend approval as it is inconsistent with the Parish’s Master Plan.”
Matt Pryor and his brethren persisted in propagating the fiction that commissioners are not armed with discretionary authority to deny plats. In August 2015 he said:
“I think our legal obligation is to approve it because it’s his land. He bought it and he has the right to develop it within the bounds of the law; which we are told he is doing.”
“We don’t have a general outcry from the population as a whole,” opined Commissioner Matt Pryor. “We have a set of rules that we have to follow.”
“Our limited ability, however, is to approve these subdivisions as proposed if they meet the planning code that our parish council lays out. And if they do, then we really don’t have a choice but to go along with them and to approve them; Even though we know there’s going to be problems down the road as both of these subdivisions, I think, will create.”
But Doc Satterlee was not alone this evening. Three Parish Councilmen joined him and District 7’s Aaron Lawler preceded Satterlee to the Public Comment podium.
“Unacceptable,” Lawler asserted. “I don’t recall there ever being a time where we’ve stopped a development. Yet, we still have drainage problems… I can tell you, the people of District 7 have had enough. We can’t have any more growth. It’s affecting our roads. It’s affecting our schools,” he pleaded his case like the attorney he is. “I’m asking y’all to do something about it,” he added the persuasiveness of a parish council member to Doc Satterlee’s.
“You have the authority to do it,” Lawler assured.
Three commissioners were persuaded to flex that discretionary authority over the mild protestations of former parish councilman, Jared “Burger” Beiriger, on hand to push Brookstone for Quality Engineering & Surveying, LLC. A mainstay of Planning meetings, three of Quality’s personnel appeared on Wednesday and not one of them was named Deric Murphy, a member of President Kenny Matassa’s transition team who has enjoyed more camera time on Ascension’s Channel 21 than swamp pop bands performing at Lamar Dixon Expo Center.
“We do know there are some issues,” Beiriger meekly offered, sensing the tide had turned against him. “We haven’t found the issue,” he conceded while hoping to be given the opportunity to identify the problem during Brookstone’s construction.
But that was not to be.
Commissioners Jackie Callender, Jr. and Morrie Bishop cited “health, safety, and welfare” concerns to justify their votes to deny Brookstone.
Commissioner Joshua Ory was the lone dissenter, casting his vote to approve.
“These issues can be worked out as construction plans go, as more data is collected,” he opined.
Ory and Callender were making their final appearances, the former having resigned but agreeing to show up to reach a four-member Planning quorum. Like Callender, Morrie Bishop’s term expired on Monday but he has applied for re-appointment.
In other business, a proposed revision to Preliminary Plat Procedure which would force developers to pay a pre-determined fee with which the parish would hire firms to conduct drainage and traffic impact studies was tabled.