Planning Commissioner resigns to seek Council seat, two others see terms expire

District 5 Council candidate Todd Varnado recently resigned from Planning Commission.

With a single subdivision preliminary plat approved since a moratorium went into effect on July 15, 2021 there are fewer unbuilt approved residential lots in Ascension than there have been in quite some time.  As the development community figures out how to deal with more stringent, post-moratorium Unified Land Development Code in place it was eight months before the first plat submission.  A nascent Planning Commission, no evident development as yet, is set to lose its second most experienced member further muddling the future of subdivision development in Ascension Parish.

Seven two-year appointments are staggered with three having expired on February 8.  Current chairman, Max Nassar was appointed along with Randy Clouatre, Jr. on April 7, 2022 to finish the unexpired terms of two resigning commissioners.  Since their appointments a single preliminary plat has been considered (see below).  The third expiring term is attached to the seat currently occupied by Todd Varnado whose Spring 2021 appointment makes him the longest serving member of the commission.

NOTE:  Wade Schexnaydre was first appointed in 2017, resigned and was appointed to a new term in 2022.

Varnado’s tenure coincided with five preliminary plat submissions, four of which he opposed.  He put in his resignation from the Planning Commission recently after going public with his intentions to challenge Councilman Dempsey Lambert in the upcoming election scheduled for October 14.

“With the first subdivision being approved since the moratorium was enacted, my resignation came with some regret.  The realization that I might be of better service to the people of Ascension Parish as an elected council member, the body tasked with enacting development code improvements, made the choice a clear one,” Todd Varnado explained.  “I anticipate more preliminary plats being submitted, and ultimately approved by a commission hamstrung by watered down ordinances passed by the current Parish Council.”

He plans to correct that when elected to represent the people in Council District 5, a seat currently occupied by five-term member, Dempsey Lambert. Varnado cited “the lowering of Traffic Impact Analysis threshold, the number of trips triggering that analysis more specifically” as a needed amendment to the current statutory scheme.  He predicted that developers will undertake “smaller developments to stay under Threshold 2 traffic studies which tend to require more severe mitigation measures.”  The same goes for Drainage Impact Analysis procedure according to Varnado.

“Like many, I have lost faith in the Council to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community as it caters to one side over the other,” Varnado added.  “Having to apply a development code that favors this side while making it harder for individuals to build their forever home has been a frustrating process at times.”

The former Planning Commissioner criticized application of the Transportation Impact Fee adopted in 2016.

“Locals can’t negotiate their way of the fees like big developers can,” he said.  “Individual homebuilders either pay up or they are denied a permit.  Many of us do not want to live in a subdivision, the longtime residents who want to raise their family in our great parish are disadvantaged because large subdivisions have overwhelmed our infrastructure.”

Election Day is October 14, leaving plenty of opportunity for preliminary plat submissions before, if all goes as planned, Todd Varnado is sworn into office in January.  In the interim, how will Varnado’s former colleagues apply the current development regulations?

Pending a reply to our recent documents request, we have heard that former commissioner Julio Dumas has applied for one of three vacancies on the commission.  As to the remaining membership, the February 8 approval of Moss Side Villas, a 36-lot subdivision proposed on 12.1 acres situated on the north side of Hwy 74 just west of the I-10 overpass in Ascension Parish Council District 8, is less than instructive.

Formerly Dutchtown Vines, a near identical plat was approved by a unanimous commission vote in 2017.  The Traffic Impact Study for the earlier plat was referenced in Wednesday’s meeting packet, with the only requirement for Moss Side Villas‘ satisfied by providing the number of peak hour trips generated.  Since that number did not trigger heightened study requirements, there was no requirement of a second full-blown traffic study.

With the approval there are 1,177 residential lots approved, all on the east bank, yet to be built out.  The number is fewer than half of that maintained over the last decade.

Six approved subdivisions are currently designated “IN CONSTRUCTION” stretching back nearly a decade when Belle Maison was approved on May 14, 2014, 54 lots off William Ficklin Road in Council District 11.  According to the Planning Department’s most recent Subdivision Status report six subdivisions totaling 583 are so designated.

  • Riverton, Phase 1/2: 91 lots north of Hwy 22 in Darrow-District 3 (March 9, 2016)
  • Black Bayou Estates: 20 lots-District 11 (January 11, 2017)
  • Christy Place: 48 lots-District 11 (May 9, 2018)
  • Belle Savanne, Phase 3: 96 lots west of Hwy 73 near Dutchtown HS-District 8 (November 11, 2020 approval)
  • Delaune Estates: 237 lots west of Hwy 73 at White Road-District 4 (July 14, 2021)

Three approved preliminary plats (261 lots) await Final plat approval.

  • Pelican Crossing, Phase 6: 66 lots east of Hwy 44 south of the City of Gonzales-District 2 (May 13, 2015 preliminary plat approval)
  • Windsor Park: 92 lots south of Hwy 42 between Hwy 44 and Jefferson Hwy-District 7 (November 18, 2020)
  • Windermere Crossing: 103 lots north of Cannon Road, east of Roddy Road-District 9 (January 13, 2021)

Two (297 lots) have submitted Construction Drawings:

  • Riverton, Phase 3-5: 220 lots north of Hwy 22 in Darrow-District 3 (March 9, 2016)
  • Pelican Point, Phase 14: 77 lots-District 2 (February 10, 2021)