Planning Chairman is attorney in suit against City of Gonzales for subdivision denial

Planning Commission Chairman Matthew Pryor

Many in the City of Gonzales have joined their Ascension Parish kin, growing angry and frustrated whenever a new subdivision development is proposed.  A vociferous crowd showed up March 22, the City Council denied Chapelwood Estates by a 3-2, following the city Planning Commission’s unanimous rejection of the 28-lot plat on 10.3 acres adjacent to Gonzales Middle School.  The developer, represented by a familiar name to every resident opposing unbridled subdivision development in Ascension Parish, sued the city and its elected officials for a Writ of Mandamus and Damages.

Matthew “Nobody’s ever accused me of being anti-development” Pryor, who chairs Ascension’s Planning Commission, has a day job…

It was a wise hire by Chapelwood Estates’ developer, AP Gonzales, LLC (which was incorporated in June 2020 by Rajesh Patel of Denham Springs). Who is better equipped to slither around and through the land development code’s loopholes toward approval?  Appointed to Ascension’s Planning Commission on July 9, 2014, Pryor cast his second ever vote to deny a residential subdivision last month (Longleaf Townhomes’ preliminary plat was denied on June 9).

Gonzales’ development code defers to East Ascension Drainage Board and Ascension Parish to approve drainage plans included in preliminary plats.  And the parish’s Engineering Review Agency, Pryor’s pal Shaun Sherrow, “issued an opinion stating…the drainage requirements ” had been met for Chapelwood Estates.

According to the petition, “At the end of February or beginning of March, 2021 (AP Gonzales, LLC) submitted…a proposed development” to the City of Gonzales Planning Commission.  It was a scaled back version of a 39-lot proposal which was rejected when the City Council declined to rezone the subject acreage to a less restrictive category.  AP Gonzales “met with the city engineer and other representatives of the City of Gonzales to ensure that the proposed development met all legal requirements.”

The plaintiff’s plat included “a stormwater drainage pond bigger than that required by by law” and access for acreage targeted by the city for a new multi-use recreational facility/gym.  It was not done out of the goodness of Rajesh Patel’s heart; the original preliminary plat’s drainage infrastructure, intended for a 39-lot subdivision, was not reengineered for the 28-lot version (how much would that have cost?).

Berthelot’s hard sell ignored as three council members deny Chapelwood Estates plat

The litigation should not come as a surprise considering how perturbed Mayor Barney Arceneaux and his predecessor, current Councilman Johnny Berthelot became at Chapelwood Estates‘ March denial.  We don’t expect the city to fight too hard against the development in court, either.

Pryor went on to write, “the City Council, and all of its members acted arbitrarily, and exceeded its police power in denying” Chapelwood Estates, “infringing on AP Gonzales’ constitutionally protected rights.”  He goes on to claim:

“…that the arbitrary and capricious denial of its development by the City of Gonzales has caused damage to (AP Gonzales), effecting other developments being proposed…and that such damage is irreparable.  The City of Gonzales is liable for the full extent of those damages.”