The March 14, 2018 agenda for Ascension’s Planning Commission has been published and it includes RECONSIDERATION of the previously denied Oak Grove Townhouses preliminary plat. Four commissioners rejected the plat on November 8, 2017 after which Dantin Bruce Development appealed to the Parish Council seated as the Planning Commission Appeals Board on February 15. Rather than do its duty, the Council referred the item back to Planning based on the developer’s spurious claim that it had been denied the opportunity for “rebuttal.”
The proposed development lies in District 7, represented by Councilman Aaron Lawler who made the motion to punt on Oak Grove Townhouses, in derogation of Preliminary Plat Procedure and what passes for the Rule of Law in Ascension Parish. Uniform Land Development Code includes:
17-405 Preliminary Plat Procedure.
D. The Planning & Zoning Commission shall hold public hearings on all major subdivisions; the subdivision must be considered at the monthly planning commission meeting:
d. The sub-divider and/or his representative shall be present at the public hearing to explain the proposal and answer questions.
That’s it; and that’s all when it comes to meeting procedure in the Code (the words “rebut” and/or “rebuttal” do NOT appear). So what is really happening?
The meeting packet for Oak Grove Townhouses’ Reconsideration recognizes the plat’s denial, noting:
“The applicant subsequently appealed the planning commission decision to the parish council in its role of Planning Board of Appeals. The appeal was considered (Emphasis added because no reasonable characterization could conclude actual consideration) at the February 15, 2018 council meeting where a motion was approved to refer the matter back to the planning commission for consideration.
Presented below is the original staff report for the project which appeared in the November 8, 2017 planning commission packet. The project has not changed since the original hearing. (Emphasis added).
Why would the developer be given a second bite at the apple? What follows is Lawler’s tortured explanation, interspersed with offerings from his colleagues (highlights in bold are added to spotlight thoughts wholly unsupported by codal or jurisprudential authority, figments of the council’s furtive imagination):
“(His motion) to refer this back to the Planning Commission based on irregularities with the prior (did he mean Pryor?) commission’s meeting. Certainly we’re not admitting that there were any irregularities, but I am recommending that we move it back to the Planning Commission to prevent any further issues with that.
Council Chairman Bill Dawson, in keeping with Roberts Rules of Order, restated Lawler’s motion to be voted upon: “to correct a potential problem with the developer not getting their rebuttal period.”
What rebuttal period?
Councilmen Todd Lambert and Daniel “Doc” Satterlee questioned Planning Director Jerome Fournier to ascertain whether any deviation from established meeting practice had occurred. None had. As Lambert said, Planning Chairman Matt Pryor “runs a good meeting.”
Fournier testified that questions were posed to Dantin Bruce and its two (traffic and drainage) engineers by individual commissioners, just like every other preliminary plat proceeding in the Planning Commission’s history. No one appeared to represent the developer on February 15, indicating Dantin Bruce’s foreknowledge of Lawler’s intentions. Unpossessed of that information, mere citizen opponents waited over four hours to make their objections, rendered meaningless by their Council representative’s motion.
“I’m not casting aspersions on Matt (Pryor). I’m trying to prevent a situation where, if allegations are made that these are, something went wrong; we move forward with this, that could come back and rear its ugly head. And send it back to the commission. That way they can make sure everything’s done right. And then we can move forward from there.
Lawler, who claimed to have watched a recording of the November meeting…
“(The developer) did get to provide answers to questions. But they weren’t given, basically, a rebuttal period to go up and speak, and specifically rebut anything they want to rebut. It was, basically, when the commissioners asked them questions, they responded to that. They didn’t have the opportunity to stand up in front of the people and then just make a five minute rebuttal.”
In other words, Dantin Bruce was subject to the provision of 17-405 D (d) like every other developer doing business in Ascension Parish. In fact, the developer’s November 8, 2017 presentation lasted six minutes, it answered commission questions for approximately five-and-a-half minutes.
“It’s a tenuous argument and I’m not saying it’s correct. I’m just trying to avoid any further complications with it.”
Strangely, neither Lawler nor any of his colleagues posed the question to Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton who sat silently, ten feet away. Parenton served as the Planning Commission’s legal adviser for several years and, presumably, could have addressed Dantin Bruce’s “tenuous argument.”
Subsequent to the February 15 referral Lawler and Planning Commissioner Wade Schexnaydre participated in a meeting with Dantin Bruce and “four or five residents of Willow Lake” which abuts the proposed development. Discussions centered on possible six-figure improvements to the existing lake’s drainage by Dantin Bruce. Which would, if Preliminary Plat Procedure is not ignored, be irrelevant to the March 14 RECONSIDERATION since any such improvements would be off-site.
Expect Oak Grove Townhouses to be approved this coming Wednesday. Commissioner Julio Dumas, who was absent on November 8, 2017, will be present to add his vote to the approvals of Chairman Pryor and Commissioner Morrie Bishop. One or both of Commissioners Anthony Christy and Ken Firmin will somehow have an epiphany and realize their earlier denials were in error.
Lawler and his Council-mates (except for Satterlee and Todd Lambert) resoundingly signaled their preference to Planning. Some of the worst-drained, most traffic-congested acreage in Ascension Parish will have a 92 new neighbors…and more of the same: