Seven items on Thursday’s Strategic Planning agenda, necessary and beneficial changes to Ascension’s Land Development Code according to the committee’s chairman, were an exercise in futility; an abject waste of time and effort for President Clint Cointment’s administration. The first and, arguably, most paramount was a proposal to prohibit any new subdivision development exiting onto a roadway less than 20′ in width. Presented as a safety measure, the item never had a chance, setting the tone for two more excruciating hours.
Councilman Corey Orgeron launched into an accusatory diatribe directed at unidentified owners of small land parcels who, he claimed, seek to “eliminate larger subdivisions so that their property becomes the only game in town.” And, yes, the unsupported accusation was every bit as ridiculous as it sounds. If ignorance, as the poet wrote, is bliss, District 4 has the happiest council representative in Ascension’s 27-year misadventure with Home Rule.
But first, consider why the administration thinks 20′ wide roads are necessary ingress/egress points for new subdivision developments. From former Planning Director/smartest guy in the room Ricky Compton, who explained that school buses were measured from side mirror-to-side mirror as a means of calculating appropriate road width. At 9’7″ a 20′ wide road would leave ten inches of clearance for two buses to pass one another.
“So, we know what we need to drive down the road safely. We’re not going to cure the sins of the past. We’re simply saying that a new subdivision should not be approved on a road where buses cannot pass safely.
Whatever data you want us collect, we’ll be happy to collect it. But the number we chose is not arbitrary. It’s factual and based on the buses that are in our system.”
One citizen speaker, formerly an Assistant Principal at two parish schools, provided first-hand knowledge of the pervasive problem.
Proposed code language, according to Compton, was written to eliminate the gray area so useful to Planning Commissioners searching for any reason to approve another subdivision. Currently, the Land Development Code requires an average 18′ roadway, “even when some areas dip down to 16′, that’s not acceptable to the administration. New subdivisions cannot exit onto roads that are less than 20′ on average (measured every 50′ in the proposed ordinance) based on this measurement technique. It is not arbitrary.”
It was a reply to Orgeron’s stupefying oration:
“Do we have a study? Has an engineer taken a look at this and told us that 20′ is the optimum width. (President Cointment would require shoulders too). Is it really 18′, could it be 16′? Should it be 24′?
We don’t know.
It seems that the reason Ascension Parish keeps falling behind the 8-ball is that no one is doing the research and the work up front to make these determinations. I know we have a lot of traffic engineers on payroll (actually, there are no traffic engineers on Ascension’s payroll). We’ve contracted with a lot of folks to do these kinds of studies but somehow, shape or form, we don’t use them up front. We wait until the back end of it to say, ‘Oh, my goodness, we screwed up. What do we do to fix it?’
Putting little-bitty band aids on significant issues is not the way for us to go.
All I know is that certain individuals who are going to personally benefit from limiting the size of subdivisions in the parish are pushing this issue. We have certain individuals in this parish who own smaller tracts of land who are looking forward to eliminating larger subdivisions so that now their property becomes the only game in town. That’s what’s taking place in this parish; that’s what’s happening here.
They’re finally getting their voice out and they’re strategically putting things in place so that their property is the only property, the only game in town, the only property that is developed. We need to make sure that we’re not like Robin Hood; stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Or stealing from the poor and giving to the rich.”
What is it about District 4 that produces councilmen given to bloviation? We digress.
Orgeron’s nonsense was good enough for two other councilmen, Dempsey Lambert and John Cagnolatti. Cagnolatti even backed Orgeron’s spurious request for more data, failing to grasp that 20′ road widths are safer for those bus-riding kids than 18′ roads.
Councilman Joel Robert’s motion to forward the proposed ordinance to the full council died for lack of a second. Orgeron, blissful in sheer ignorance, moved to send the item to Ascension’s Planning Commission for study. The problem, the recommendation had originated in the Planning Commission.
At which point Chairman Melancon must have been tempted to scrap the rest of his agenda.
There was an item to reduce maximum residential density from 3 lots per acre to 2.5 lots per acre or, in the alternative, allow individual owners to calculate net density the same way developers do. No way this panel was going to reduce maximum density so four of them voted for the latter. Dempsey Lambert was the only holdout, preferring to treat individual citizens more harshly than his developer pals (three of whom were on hand to give him cover).
Make Traffic Impact Studies more stringent by eliminating unclear language in the current policy? The administration proposed to make denial of subdivision preliminary plats mandatory when any subject intersection fell below Level of Service ‘D” in requisite traffic studies. No way as another Joel Robert motion died for lack of a second.
There was a single proposal which seemed to garner universal support. Corrugated steel culverts, long the preferred method, “are a major problem for (drainage) maintenance” according to newly-ratified Public Works Director Ron Savoy. No one disagreed and the administration proposed to eliminate them from use.
Councilman Orgeron, without a syllable of explanation, opposed it.