Planning approves 162 lots contingent on roundabouts being built

Braud/Germany roundabout (from MoveAscension website)

Wednesday’s meeting of Ascension Planning Commission was the first to apply new Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) required of every major subdivision preliminary plat as 162 lots were approved near the intersection of Braud Road and Germany Road.  One developer, Germany Land Development, proposed 60-lot Highland Trace and 102-lot Lake at West Creek on 58 acres near those roads.  Both were approved with the understanding that no certificate of occupancy can be issued unless/until proposed roundabouts are constructed and operational or the developer install a traffic signal installed by the developer.

The roundabout proposed at Braud/Germany would improve the Level of Service from “F” during peak hour morning traffic to an “A” according to the TIA submitted by Germany Land Development in both subdivision applications; a second intersection (Braud/Hwy 929) was included in the Highland Trace TIA.

Traffic Impact Analysis included “F” for A.M. peak hour traffic

Both intersections are included in the parish’s MoveAscension road building initiative, neither has progressed beyond the design phase and no “Construction Timetable” has been set.  According to the initiative’s website Right-of-Way acquisition, purportedly the hold up on many projects, has not begun.

Effective May 21, the Parish Council enacted a more stringent TIA policy which includes:

A proposed development which is subject to the TIA requirements of this policy may be disapproved when the results of the required TIA demonstrate that the proposed project will overburden the existing roadway system by causing a reduction in service of affected roadways, negatively impacts the safety of the roadway, or is below the adopted Level of Service (LOS) “D”. In the case where the existing Level of Service (LOS) is below “D”, the required mitigating improvements shall improve the LOS to “D” or better.

If traffic mitigation is part of an approved Traffic Impact Analysis, all approved traffic improvements must be implemented prior to issuance of an occupancy permit.

Planning’s Engineering Review Agency (CSRS’ Shaun Sherrow) made the following recommendation to the Commission with regard to Highland Trace:

Roundabouts are currently being design (sic) under the Move Ascension initiative at both intersections that will increase the LOS to an A.  Should the roundabout not be built at Braud Road/Germany Road intersection, a light will be needed at the intersection to make the LOS acceptable.  No turn lanes are needed at proposed subdivision entrance on Braud Road.

A similar recommendation was offered for Lake at West Creek.  

Germany Land Development’s Ross Berthelot relied upon MoveAscension’s proposed roundabouts, assuring that his company would install a traffic signal should they not come to pass.  It would likely be a first since we are unaware of any traffic signal at the intersection of two Ascension Parish roads.  Would the parish even allow a private company to install/monitor/maintain signalization on its roads?

Commissioner Wade Schexnaydre stressed that responsibility for acceptable improvements would fall on the developer, even if the roundabouts are delayed or never come to pass.  That’s fine by Joel Robert, one of three declared 2019 Parish Council candidates in attendance on Wednesday.

“Our parish is, for many reasons, a hot commodity with some of the highest property values in the state,” he said.  “Developers have taken advantage of Ascension for too long.”

Reviewing the new TIA policy, Robert deemed it an improvement while urging the Commission to “do even better.”  He would have preferred denial of both subdivisions until MoveAscension’s two roundabouts were built, distrustful of ultimate enforcement of the contingencies being completed.

“The citizens of Ascension Parish have been asking for meaningful traffic impact studies and we finally have them,” offered Kim Christy.

Insufficient infrastructure, particular transportation and drainage, has long been the focal point of criticism leveled at Planning Commission loathe to deny subdivision preliminary plats.  Traffic and drainage impact studies “not worth the paper they’re written on” were the rule, the declaration first made about TIA in 2015 by one parish engineer.

“It’s always been about adequate infrastructure being in place before approving all these rooftops,” added Jeff Pettit, another of those declared candidates.  “If these roundabouts, supposed to improve Level of Service are required prior to new residents moving in, that’s a win for Ascension Parish.  Unfortunately, Drainage Impact Analysis improvements have been delayed.”

The Parish Council hired engineering firm, HNTB to revamp drainage regulations in the Unified Land Development Code as part of an overall Floodplain Management Plan over a year ago.  HNTB presented a draft of its work product to EA Drainage Board where Chairman Dempsey Lambert delayed consideration, implying that construction of a new courthouse might be adversely affected by its adoption.

Drainage concerns were raised during Lake at West Creek’s public comment period.