“This subdivision, when it’s built out, is going to generate a lot of traffic…Going to throw that whole area into gridlock. The roadways cannot handle it.”-Former Ascension Parish Engineer Bob Turner on March 9, 2016 during Planning Commission consideration of Riverton Subdivision.
Five years ago yesterday, with former Planning Director Ricky Compton having been fired five days earlier, then parish president Kenny Matassa appeared to strong-arm parish engineers into acquiescence about Riverton Subdivision’s 780-lot preliminary plat. And Bob Turner still made the astounding declaration above as one of the most convoluted, contorted Planning Commission proceedings in Ascension’s history found a way to approval.
Three commissioners remain from that March 9, 2016 meeting as Riverton’s first Final Plat is set to be considered tonight. There will, if initial plans hold, be ten separate Final Plat filings.
Riverton’s developer, the Grady Melancon-owned SLC, LLC, was still negotiating with the parish as of that morning, resulting in a 4-2 vote to approve. While drainage and sewer treatment issues remained to iron out, traffic took up the bulk of commission’s consideration. Anticipated to generate 7,000 daily trips, the 780-lot development’s Traffic Impact Study indicated necessary improvements at the intersection of Hwy 22 and Hwy 44; and every intersection heading north up to and including Hwy 44’s intersections with Interstate 10 inside the City of Gonzales.
Bob Turner estimated $50 million worth of roadway improvements would be necessary to offset adverse impact by Riverton and other developments. Unsurprisingly, Turner would not last much longer in the parish’s employ. That was going to be a tough sell, even for Commissioners Matthew Pryor and Julio Dumas, the latter attending his first meeting since being appointed to the Planning Commission (we include Pryor and Dumas because they still sit on the Planning Commission).
It was another pro-development commissioner, Morrie Bishop, who would make the motion to approve Riverton subject to three conditions:
- the developer submitting another traffic impact study at the end of the second filing;
- drainage impact study being approved by engineering; and
- a note being attached to the approved plat indicating a $1,000/lot Traffic Impact Fee being payable, or the amount required if the Parish Council approved such fees.
NOTE: The council would approve Traffic Impact Fees in April 2016.
It was that conditional approval which cleared the way for Riverton’s construction while essentially ignoring the dire implications of its Traffic Impact Study. Allowed to alter the preliminary plat application on the morning of March 9, 2016, the plat was broken up into four phases and ten separate filings. The project engineer explained that each of the future filings would include “between 70 to 90 lots per filing.”
Commissioner Matthew Pryor posited, “Somewhere around 260 lots is where you’re gonna start having traffic concerns.” Bob Turner advised of “the need to start considering road improvements” once 100 vehicle trips per day are generated during peak hours. Turner’s admonition was roundly ignored by four Planning Commissioners back then.
From the March 9, 2016 meeting packet:
“The phases shown on the plat and listed in the TIS do not match. For example in the TIS Phase 1 is said to be 213 lots but on the plat lot 213 is in the middle of phase 3.”
That was before the 11th-hour machinations restructured Riverton’s plans to four phases and ten filings. Staff, even without Ricky Compton’s presence, recommended denial “because the Traffic Impact Study has not been approved by the Engineering Department.” So what?
The Planning Commission only seems to value Staff Recommendations for approval.
Fast forward five years and a day and, inexplicably, the condition approved by the commission has been altered significantly. Tonight’s meeting packet reads:
“There is also a requirement that the applicant provide an updated traffic study when 478 residential lots have been developed. This is set to occur (under current configuration) between the 6th and 7th filings.“
In 2016 it was conceded that Riverton’s developer should not, and could not, be held responsible for all the road improvements necessary to maintain the already substandard Level of Service in the Hwy 44 traffic corridor. After all, Oak Lake’s 162 lots had already been approved across Hwy 44 from Conway Subdivision (inside the City of Gonzales) and each would have to chip in. Riverton was going to be subject to the not yet codified Traffic Impact Fee while Oak Lake, approved in December of 2015, was not.
Subsequently a Hwy 44 roundabout affording ingress/egress to/from Conway and Oak Lake has been built; and Louisiana DOTD has expropriated property necessary to build another roundabout approximately .5 miles to the south on the state highway. But Riverton is five-times larger than Oak Lake and its developer still has 148 acres to develop between Riverton and Pelican Point.
Another 444 lots are available for Grady Melancon to develop once Riverton is built out. When/if he ever has to produce an actual Traffic Impact Study, what is it going to consider? Instead of the impact of 780 lots on traffic, will it only consider the impact of 302 lots?
Three Planning Commissioners remain from Riverton’s March 9, 2016 approval. Pryor and Dumas are joined by Aaron Chaisson who, attending his first meeting as a member, cast one of two votes against the subdivision. Pryor, as it happens, saw his current term expire on February 8 but, if past practice holds, will continue serving until new appointments are made by the Parish Council.
Incidentally, Pryor was ranked in a three-way tie for the third and final Commission seat by the Council’s Personnel Committee on February 22. The Council has yet to include new appointments on a meeting agenda and there is a scramble on to extend Pryor’s tenure on the seven-member panel as we speak. More on that in the near future.
Suffice it to say, so long as a majority of Ascension’s Parish Council wants pro-development Planning Commissioners, it will find a way to seat them.