Orleans Place another SHADY subdivision deal (with Roux’s fingerprints)

On Monday the City of Gonzales’ Planning Commission will approve (or not) a detention pond proposed adjacent to Orleans Place subdivision so that Grady Melancon can sell 40 undeveloped lots to DR Horton.   An existing subdivision, Orleans Place’s preliminary plat was approved more than dozen years ago, then a 2009 Final Plat that included a note requiring “pier and beam construction” in order to “restrict fill and preserve the stormwater storage in the floodplain.”  But DR Horton will not purchase those lots unless they have assurance that “slab on-grade homes” will be allowed.

And Grady Melancon cannot line his already bulging pockets.  So he enlisted the assistance of Quality Engineering’s Deric Murphy, after discarding a competitor, to skirt the Final Plat requirement, proposing to utilize a detention pond to satisfy Ascension’s opaque and ineffective drainage mitigation strictures.

On January 28, 2021 DR Horton’s Land Acquisition Manager Jake Lambert emailed officials for the city and parish (excerpted below).

As you are aware, there is a note on the plat that currently requires all houses constructed in Orleans Place to be constructed on Pier/Beam in order to restrict fill and preserve the stormwater storage in the floodplain…As you are also aware, the most recent homes constructed in Orleans Place have been constructed on slabs at-grade.  (Emphasis added).

The “most recent homes” constructed were, according to emails, Lots 33-35.  Purportedly they were approved by fiat of then EA Drainage head, Bill Roux though no one could locate documentary evidence of Roux having done so.  Lambert’s email continued.

I called the city to discuss removal of the note on the plat, and to find out the reasoning for the allowance of the slab on-grade homes.

The City deferred all drainage matters to the East Ascension Gravity Drainage District(EAGDD) and said that a letter was provided from the McLin-Taylor, that made them comfortable with the drainage within the subdivision. They told me that we would also have to get the same assurance from EAGDD prior to the City issuing building permits to DR Horton.

As a matter of proper due-diligence, Horton must have this issue (the ability to construct slab on-grade homes) resolved prior to closing on the lots in Orleans Place.

Grady Melancon [l] with his attorney, Dwight Poirrier after Riverton subdivision Planning Commission hearing [2016]

On February 8 Gonzales CAO Scot Byrd responded to Melancon’s engineer at the time, McLin-Taylor:

I have researched our files to find a letter from Mr. Roux authorizing the construction of homes on grade (slab) in Orleans Place in reply to the letter written by Billy Taylor, dated May 10, 2017. I am unable to find a copy after searching our electronic and paper files. I have spoken with Ron Savoy and he is unable to find a copy, either. After speaking with my staff, I am told they remember the letter and we have every reason to believe that it did exist.

I call your attention to the letter’s request that the letter requested permission to build on slab for Lots 33-35. My building official confirms those lots are built on slab.

As for the remaining lots, it is my opinion that the plat’s note prevails and they should be built on piers as required on the plat. The City is open to considering a revision of the final plat, going thru the regular planning and approval process. Should you require anything other than proceeding to either build on piers or revise the plat, I will have to refer any other proposal to our city attorney for his recommendation.

Deric Murphy of Quality Engineering and Surveying (file photo)

When that failed, Melancon got himself a new engineer, one more experienced in coaxing approvals from Ascension Parish hired/appointed decisionmakers.

Quality Engineering’s Deric Murphy proposed offsetting Orleans Place’s adverse drainage impact by offering credits from another of Melancon’s development’s inside the city, Arbor Crossing.  That subdivision is located on the south side of Hwy 30, approximately half-a-mile away, as the crow flies, from Orleans Place which is north of E Worthey Road (behind the Courthouse Annex complex east of Irma Blvd).

Thought promising at first, Ascension’s Engineering Review Agent Shaun Sherrow concluded in a June 16 email:

The information that is provided show that there is sufficient offsite mitigation left over from Arbor Crossing to offset the fill that already has been placed at Orleans Place. Not enough information is provided for anyone else to get credits from Arbor Crossing.

Sherrow would deliver the bad news in a subsequent email concluding that the operative code disallowed offsite mitigation “because the Base Flood Elevation at (Arbor Crossing) is more than 1′ lower, than Orleans Place’s BFE.”

Grady Melancon himself would email CAO Byrd on June 22, “Scott I’m request a waiver on this project.”  But Gonzales’ Chief Administrative Officer deferred, explaining “I do not have the authority to grant a waiver.”

So, Deric Murphy figured out another way to avoid the Final Plat pier-and-beam construction requirement.  He wrote, in a June 29 email:

I hope all is well today. Mr. Grady wanted me to reach and discuss a potential option to get the mitigation credits for Orleans Place. There is an existing pond partially in Orleans Place (according the attached image) which is mostly owned by a neighbor to the south. Mr. Grady has reached out and the neighbor is willing to discuss modifying the pond to achieve the needed credits. I understand that the pond may be part of the detention system for the neighboring development. Preliminary analysis indicates that by lowering the water surface and possible modification to the foot print would yield the credits. Before we went any further, we wanted to make sure that yall would be ok with this concept. I have included Shaun on this email in case you wanted his feedback as well.

Detention ponds do not work!

That is the commonly held public perception.  Whether it is a faulty design, or a failure to maintain the ponds intended to mitigate all that fill, moved around all those new subdivisions blamed for ever-worsening drainage issues around Ascension Parish.  The City of Gonzales, situated right in the middle of Ascension and subject to the same problems, relies upon parish engineers to approve drainage mitigation for any subdivision planned within the city limits.

On Monday the city’s Planning Commission will approve (or not) a proposed detention so that Grady Melancon can sell 40 undeveloped lots to DR Horton.