There was a time, not so long ago, when Ascension’s Planning Commission exercised its own judgment, unrestrained by political considerations and the preference of its master, the Parish Council. On December 19, 2011 a semi-lame duck Council (four councilmen had been voted out two months earlier) abolished the nine-man commission, intending to reduce its membership to a more controllable five members before settling on a compromise, the current seven seat Planning Commission. No longer would the commission be an independent body of Ascension citizens unrestrained by political considerations:
Capital Area Builders Association REJOICE!
Of the 30 public speakers that night only two, Julio Dumas and Billy “the Builder” Aguillard supported ridding Ascension of the courageous commissioners willing to exercise their own judgment. Dumas, as it happened, was also a Planning Commissioner who deemed his brethren “dysfunctional” after finding himself on the wrong side of too many votes. Dumas would return to the Planning Commission in 2016 to resume pandering to every developer with a piece of bottomland to fill with concrete, brick and mortar (and thousands of new residents with thousands of new vehicles to choke Ascension’s already strangled roadways).
The fix was in on December 19, 2011; and the fix is in today. During Dumas’ hiatus the Council appointed a series of “YES” men to approve EVERY subdivision preliminary plat submitted for the Planning Commission’s consideration. With Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton perpetrating the legal fiction that Planning had no discretionary authority to deny plats conforming to subdivision regulations, a fiction propagated by Planning’s chairman, Matt Pryor, who should know better.
On the exceedingly rare occasion when a planning vote went against the developer, there was an infuriating three-man Appeals Board to overturn the denial; so infuriating that the Council could not endure the political backlash and…
The Appeals Board was abolished on March 16, 2017 with the Council taking its place. But a healthy majority of the Council is loathe to due its duty, finding any lame justification to avoid making the ultimate decision.
Councilman Aaron Lawler, whose District 7 includes the site where Dantin Bruce Development, LLC intends to construct Oak Grove Townhouses, cited “the tenuous argument” that the developer had been denied a non-existent right of “rebuttal” during the Planning Commission’s public hearing. Reconsideration of the preliminary plat, scheduled for the March 14 meeting, was supposed to allow the developer an opportunity to rebut criticisms registered at the November 8, 2017 hearing which resulted in a 4-2 denial.
Of course, there was no rebuttal on March 14 when the Commission reversed itself in a 4-3 approval. Instead it was Commissioner Julio Dumas waiving the text of an agreement he and Councilman Lawler negotiated to have Dantin Bruce escrow $100,000 toward lowering some off-site weir blamed for drainage deficiencies at Willow Lake, an existing subdivision nearby.
“$100,000 is a nice gesture on the part of Dantin Bruce,” said an obviously frustrated Planning Commissioner Wade Schexnaydre at the time. “It just might pay for the engineering fees to design that replacement weir. I have no idea where the balance is coming from and neither does anyone else who attended tonight’s meeting.”
When Oak Grove Townhouses had been denied four months earlier it was clear that the majority did not believe the Traffic Impact Study submitted by Dantin Bruce, but those concerns were not part of the March 14 “rebuttal.” Dumas, who was not present on November 8, 2017, never addressed those traffic concerns, saying:
“I think the Parish Council, in its great wisdom, for whatever reason, decided that they felt that the petitioner should have been given adequate opportunity to rebut the thing and further discuss the motion that was made at the time. I was not here. I wasn’t present so, all I can tell you is that I think we’ve been asked to revisit the matter by the Parish Council and I think it behooves us to move forward and do this in the normal course of business.”
“I had the opportunity to meet with the councilman and the developer and hear the situation,” Dumas prefaced his motion to approve before commending “the developer for spending quality time and taking advantage of the appeal process to meet with you guys in the community and address the issue. I hope I don’t have to read this into the record. Do I Cody?”
None of which, given Julio Dumas’ track record on the Commission, should come as any surprise. He’s been in the pocket of development, doing the Parish Council’s bidding for quite some time now. Dumas tenure goes back to the 2006 when his wheeling and dealing incurred the wrath of Ascension’s top law enforcement officer.
It seems Dumas and his partners…
wanted to build a subdivision under another corporate entity, Burnside Development, LLC, while Dumas gained his seat on the Planning Commission. Aron Matassa, the parish president’s nephew from what we hear, and a different Spangenberg (Phillip) are listed as Burnside Development’s officers. Dumas, according to reportage at the time, “divested his interests because he has recently been appointed to the parish Planning (Commission).”
“In an advisory opinion approved earlier this month, the state Board of Ethics told him he couldn’t sit on the commission and have the project come before him with interests in it. Under state ethics law, members of appointed commissions or boards can’t abstain to avoid conflicts of interest but must resign or somehow resolve the conflict.” The Advocate-January 25, 20016.
“In another requested advisory opinion dated Jan. 13 (2206), the Ethics Board told Julio Dumas that his children must divest themselves of their minority interests in a property under development in the parish if he were to serve on the commission and if the property were to come before the commission.
Did Dumas need to be informed of this?
Fast forward to the Public Hearing of River Woods subdivision and it was Commissioner Julio Dumas who made the motion to approve in May of 2006, causing the letter from Sheriff Jeff Wiley above. Dumas subsequently replied to Wiley (which was reported by The Advocate in August of 2006):
“I am not Burnside Development and do not have any financial or any other ties to the development. I have not had any of the aforementioned ties to the development since prior to my appointment to the planning commission…My company is exclusively in the telecommunications industry. It is not involved in or associated with Burnside Development in any capacity.”
Dumas later said he “took the liberty” of making the motion to approve the development “because I understood it better than anyone else. I made it because I live in the neighborhood.” He said he had only “a small stake” in Burnside Development before he divested.
Dumas saw no conflict of interest. Dumas’ neighbor, a parish council member at the time, Kent Schexnaydre disagreed. According to The Advocate:
Dumas’ decision to leave the development to become a member of the planning commission “didn’t make any sense to me,” Schexnaydre said. “(Dumas) said he wanted to do public service, he had plenty of money and wanted to serve the community. It looks fishy, sure it does. But he got an ethics ruling. After that, what do you do?” Schexnaydre asked.
If you happen to be a council member in Ascension Parish, you continue to appoint him to the Planning Commission.
NOTE: River Woods subdivision was never built.