Development moratorium is only delay, real change requires new council members

Ascension Parish’s Unified Land Development Code (ULDC), Subdivision Regulation and corresponding ordinances could do with updating as a nine-month moratorium on subdivision of property is in place.  The moratorium is premised upon the need to address drainage issues, but there is nothing to prevent an examination of other regulatory areas during the hiatus, most particularly inadequate transportation networks which compromise safety and inconvenience motorists.  President Clint Cointment has appointed a committee comprised of citizens and administration members to do just that.

It is a fool’s errand unless the Council adopts a different development philosophy than the one pervading the governing authority over the last two decades.  The moratorium is a mere nine-month palliative without a council willing to codify stricter development standards; and appoint Planning Commissioners willing to enforce its strictures.

Ascension Parish is an attractive product to the development community (most attribute the demand to its well-regarded public school system).  With a dwindling supply of developable land, maximizing the return from developer investment should be high on the Council’s list of priorities.  The development community, as it has for decades, will fight tooth and nail to derail every effort toward more stringent standards, predicting doom and gloom if required to include the most insignificant amenity in these new subdivisions.

Requiring green space and a few trees to be planted along actual sidewalks did not inflate the cost of individual homes beyond the buyers’ ability to pay.  Neither did imposition of transportation and sewer impact fees, nor a fill ordinance.  Most recently Dantin Bruce Development agreed to widen a mile of Cannon Road to 20′ in order to develop Windermere Crossing’s 103 lots, presumably without destroying its profit margin.

Strengthening the ULDC and corresponding regulations will not (unfortunately for some) stop the building boom in Ascension Parish.  While developers may be required to pay more for infrastructure, that is the cost of doing business when demand exceeds supply.  Among the proposals discussed publicly are:

  • Reducing allowable density across zoning classifications
  • Prohibiting new subdivisions on any roadway narrower than 20′
  • Have Ascension Parish hire firms to perform requisite Traffic Impact Studies
  • Have Ascension Parish hire firms to perform requisite Drainage Impact Studies
  • Eliminate all fill from flood zones/pier-and-beam houses
  • Address unsatisfactory subdivision retention/detention ponds

Our favorite would require an amendment to Ascension’s Home Rule Charter, Section 4-18.  Planning Commission.  Take away the commission’s authority to approve/deny subdivision plats, designating the elected council members as the final authority.  It is the least likely, requiring eight council votes to place such an initiative on the ballot for Ascension voters to decide.

We highly doubt the Parish Council, as currently constituted, will vote to codify any of these measures.  And, even if they did put some teeth into the ULDC, what is the likelihood of rigid enforcement by the currently constituted Planning Commission?

The Commission, comprised of a membership hand-selected by a few members of the Parish Council, is a buffer to absorb the wrath of an angry public.  Say what you want about Commissioner Matthew Pryor, but his pro-development stance is unaffected by the most withering criticism.  That criticism should be directed at the council which continues to appoint him…

RIGGED! Personnel Committee redo recommends Pryor for Planning Commission

 

Pryor’s initial appointment to the Planning Commission was on July 9, 2014.  Only two current council members (Dempsey Lambert and Teri Casso) were in office.  They have voted to reappoint Pryor four times.

FUN FACT:  In his five appointments to the commission there have been a total of four votes against Pryor; former councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee in 2017 and 2019, Councilmen Joel Robert and Michael Mason on April 1, 2021.

Two Planning Commissioners (Julio Dumas and Aaron Chaisson) have served since March of 2016, taking there seats along with four others.  Anthony Christy and Morrie Bishop did not seek reappointment in 2020 while two others, Douglas Foster and Edward Dudley were rejected after one year on the commission.  Foster and Dudley had to go after opposing too many preliminary plats, two of which were denied (Oakbourne and Camellia Cove would receive approval from the former Appeals Board, a three-member body abolished in January of 2017).

Richard Carmouche was dumped after voting to deny all four subdivision plats considered during his brief tenure.  How Aaron Chaisson, opposing about half of the plats, has hung onto his Planning Commission seat is a mystery.

Any meaningful change has to begin with Parish Council’s membership.

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