President Matassa, Dawson show up for Planning’s 780-lot Riverton approval

Left to right: District 2 Councilman Bill Dawson, President Matassa, Traffic Engineer Nick Ferlito, Ascension CAO Ken Dawson, and Billy "the Mississippi Builder" Aguillard

Left to right: District 2 Councilman Bill Dawson, President Matassa, Traffic Engineer Nick Ferlito, Ascension CAO Ken Dawson, and Billy “the Mississippi Builder” Aguillard (looking over the shoulder of parish drainage and traffic engineers?)

Aurora Borealis, a solar eclipse, Halley’s Comet…parish president at Planning Commission meeting; sighting any of these naturally occurring phenomena are exceedingly rare in Ascension Parish.  But it happened Wednesday night when President Kenny Matassa entered the meeting chamber as the 780-lot Riverton subdivision preliminary plat was taken up.  A divided commission approved the  plat subject to contingencies related to the traffic and drainage issues Riverton will create.

It will be constructed in ten filings (and four phases), one a year for the next ten years according to Quality Engineering & Surveying’s Deric Murphy.

Morrie Bishop (l) with newly-sworn in Commissioner Edward Dudley

Morrie Bishop (l) with newly-sworn in Commissioner Edward Dudley

Riverton, situated along Hwy 22 in Councilman Bill Dawson’s District 2, fulfills one of the parish president’s platitudinous campaign catchphrases:

“I am for new taxpayers.”

Candidate Kenny Matassa incorporated the pithy slogan at his February 2015 announcement and continued to employ it throughout his campaign.  President Matassa did not hang around to answer questions, exiting the chamber as the 4-2 vote concluded.  (Questions about commissioner authority to deny such a plat, so prevalent in 2015, were not mentioned).

Which way did he go? Councilman John Cagnolatti, not yukking it up with Billy "the Mississippi Builder" Agullard

Which way did he go? Councilman John Cagnolatti, (not yukking it up with Billy “the Mississippi Builder” Aguillard) after President Matassa and his CAO made room on the front row bench-style seating,

Of the two “nays” Commissioner Dudley cited Staff Recommendations to deny since Riverton failed to sufficiently address comments to its drainage and traffic impact studies.

“My biggest issue, they have to prove that they’re reducing the flow,” said Drainage Engineer Rhonda Braud.  “And they’re trying to prove that off of their property.  They need to prove it on their property.”

Neither Base Flood Elevation (BFE) or the watershed had been verified.  Dudley raised concerns over potable water and sewer treatment as well.  Riverton’s revised plan to build in four phases, and agreement to build a roundabout for ingress/egress on Hwy 22 when the 95th lot is developed, failed to sway him.

The first phase, 213 lots, will trigger a contingency suggested by Commissioner Morrie Biship requiring updated traffic study.  Some of the improvements suggested in Neel-Shaffer’s current study are being undertaken as developments in the City of Gonzales proceed, but there is much left to do.  And those plans are not funded according to Traffic Engineer Bob Turner.

The traffic impact study recommended improvements on Hwy 44 all the way to I-10 in Gonzales which Bob Turner estimated to cost over $50 million.

“At some point (between Riverton’s 2nd and 3rd phases) there needs to be a cut off limit as to how far they can go before these other things happen,” Turner said.  “I’m trying to make sure we don’t develop this full subdivision until other improvements are made that’s capable of handling it…If they have no limit, and they go ahead and build out 780 lots, you’re gonna’ throw that whole area into gridlock.”

He warned that full build out would “lower the level of service both on Hwy 22 and Hwy 44, even at the ramp intersections at I-10,” two miles north in Gonzales

Riverton-developer, Grady Melancon of Sorrento, agreed to pay $1,000/lot traffic impact fees after negotiations with Matassa’s administration and Councilman Dawson.

“We need to have impact fees so that the developers of these subdivisions offset or mitigate their problems,” Bill Dawson explained the will of his constituency to the Commission.  “This week I was called to a meeting between the developers and the administration. There were offers and counter-offers.”

If the Parish Council enacts impact fees greater than the agreed upon $1,000/lot, Riverton will pay the enacted amount.

Negotiated impact fees for new subdivisions are not an entirely new concept.  On July 10, 2015 The Meadows at Oak Grove preliminary plat came before the commission.  Planning negotiations with that developer resulted in:

“Staff recommends that the developer pay an Impact fee of either: A) $750 per lot at the time of final plat or B) $1,000 per lot; $500 at final plat and $500 at CO (Certificate of Occupancy) for each lot, and if they desire to make (traffic) improvements, any fees associated with that work could offset a portion of the total impact fee.”

Planning Director Ricky Compton after February 10 Planning meeting

Planning Director Ricky Compton after February 10 Planning meeting

Negotiations were conducted by then Planning Director Ricky Compton, which spurred former President Tommy Martinez to threaten Compton’s firing.  Even so, another developer agreed to impact fees in August of 2015:

“As a result of a few concerns of neighborhood residents and some planning staff recommendations, we are proposing to contribute an impact fee of $750 per lot,” offered Ross Bruce, developer of Hidden Farms.  “We certainly understand that new development does have an impact on infrastructure and we plugged in impact fees from the very beginning…We felt like it was the right thing to do.”

President Matassa followed through on Martinez’ threat, firing Compton last Friday, while implementing his short-lived practice of negotiating impact fees.  And it was “the administration” that handled the negotiation according to Compton’s interim successor, Lance Brock, after Wednesday’s meeting.

Interim Planning Director Lance Brock (l) could smile after the meeting

Interim Planning Director Lance Brock (l) could smile after the meeting

Brock’s participation for the preceding 90 minutes consisted of two words (“No report”) and it appeared he would rather have been somewhere, anywhere, else for the duration.  Who could blame him?  The wellspring of public support for Ricky Compton is reflected within the Parish Council’s membership.

Matassa has refused to comment on Compton’s termination.  Will the practice of negotiated impact fees continue?

Grady Melancon’s agreement to pay a $1,000/lot impact fee, $780,000 whether the Parish Council enacts the fee or not, did not seem to cause him much concern.

Grady Melancon [l] with his attorney, Dwight Poirrier

Grady Melancon [l] with his attorney, Dwight Poirrier

“Sure, Riverton will impact infrastructure and we are ready to do what is fair and benefits the community,” he said.  “It’s important to consider the tax revenue generated by developments like Riverton because it’s substantial.”

Material costs, combined with workmen shopping locally, will generate $28,000 in sales tax revenue per lot according to Melancon.  Expecting to average 78 lots a year he argued that yearly sales tax generation related to Riverton will be $2,184,000 for the next decade.

Riverton is also subject to a $2,500/lot sewer impact fee pursuant to a 2011 ordinance which has not been enforced until now.  Three subdivision final plats were also approved on Wednesday and each will be subject to the sewer impact fee.

Why now?  Matassa is negotiating a $300 million public/private partnership agreement for east bank comprehensive sewer with Ascension Environmental, the non-profit corporation consisting of multiple companies put together by his friend and ardent campaign supporter, Glenn Shaheen of GSA Consulting Engineers.