Upcoming appointments to Planning Commission present Council with clear choices

Top row (left to right) Chairman Matthew Pryor, Commissioners Richard Carmouche, Ken Firmin, and Aaron Chaisson. Julio Dumas (middle left), and Robert Hodgson (bottom left).

Each year Ascension’s Parish Council makes appointments to the parish’s Planning Commission, the panel comprised of seven members serving staggered two-year terms.  On February 8 the appointments of Chairman Matthew Pryor, Commissioners Ken Firmin and Richard Carmouche expired (the latter having been seated in October to finish the remainder of former commissioner, Wade Schexnaydre’s term).  The Council’s Personnel Committee is scheduled to conduct telephone interviews of all applicants on Monday (February 22).

Personnel is chaired by Councilman Corey Orgeron and includes Councilmen John Cagnolatti (Vice Chairman), Alvin Thomas, Chase Melancon, and Michael Mason.  The committee has, in the past, ranked applicants for consideration by the full council which has never deviated from those rankings.

Historically, reappointment has been the rule for a council perfectly happy to maintain the status quo.  No sitting commissioner has been denied reappointment for approving subdivision plats though two, Douglas Foster and Edward Dudley, who cast several votes to DENY were ousted in March 2017 after only a year of service.  If the current council follows its predecessor, Commissioner Richard Carmouche’s stay on the Commission could be short-lived indeed.

Sworn in on October 14, Carmouche and his colleagues have considered five subdivision plats, four residential and one commercial.  Windsor Park, Clare Court, Windermere Crossing and Pelican Point-14th Filing are the residential plats, Buzzard Roost the commercial.  Richard Carmouche voted to DENY them all, even as each one was approved.

Commissioner Ken Firmin was sworn in April 12, 2017 along with Wade Schexnaydre, taking the seats rendered vacant by the Foster/Dudley ouster.  During his tenure 23 subdivision plats have come before the Planning Commission with Firmin casting five votes to DENY:  Hudson Cove (Firmin’s first meeting), twice he voted against Oak Grove Townhouses (in November 2017 when it was rejected by a 4-2 vote, again in March 2018 after the Parish Council punted the plat back to Planning for Reconsideration).

RECONSIDERATION of once denied Oak Grove Townhouses: The fix is in.

Firmin’s two “NO” votes were key in denying two subdivision plats; Amalfi Cove and Antebellum Pointe were both denied by 4-3 votes, neither was approved by the Parish Council on appeal.  Amalfi Cove, though, was intended for the same property upon which just approved Windermere Court, a 4-2 approval (with Firmin in the majority) on January 13, sits.  Curious.

Prior to his Planning Commission service, Firmin did eight months on the defunct three-member Planning Commission Appeals Board, from April 2016 through the end of that year.  The Parish Council would abolish that panel, assuming appellate jurisdiction in January 2017.  In December 2016 Firmin voted to overturn two subdivision plats, Camellia Cove and Oakbourne, which had been denied a few months earlier.  On April 18, 2016 Firmin was alone in voting to uphold the denial of Brookstone Subdivision.  

Coincidently, Brookstone is the only residential plat that Commissioner Matthew Pryor has ever voted against.  Admittedly, and unapologetically, Pryor is “pro-development” with a track record to prove it beyond any doubt.

Sworn onto the Planning Commission on July 9, 2014, 54 new residential subdivision preliminary plats have been considered since Pryor took up his position.  His only vote to DENY was cast on February 10, 2016, part of the majority in a 3-1 vote rejecting Brookstone, but only temporarily.   Six-and-a-half years on the Commission, four years as Chairman, Matthew Pryor has wielded quite a lot of influence, always pro-development with one exception.

First Anniversary: Jamestown Crossing preliminary plat approval

Never more effectively was that influence exerted than approval of Jamestown Crossing’s two phases on May 9, 2018.

The fact that Hwy 930 was substandard, averaging 17.3 feet of crumbling asphalt over its length according to Planning Director Jerome Fournier, was no impediment to Commission approval (even in the face of Ascension’s Land Development Code 17-4032 Street Requirements):

A. The Commission shall apply the following rules in evaluation of subdivision applications:
1. Density Restrictions
a. No major or minor subdivision may be developed on any street which is less than 18’ in pavement width.

The approval was a 4-3 vote (Julio Dumas, Morrie Bishop, Ken Firmin, and Pryor in the majority).  Pryor would say of the ordinance:

“Does that mean the whole roadway needs to be wider than 18 feet?  Does it mean an average?  Or does it mean as long as there’s portions that are 18 feet wide it’s acceptable?”

The Parish Council knows exactly what it’s getting in Planning Commissioner Matthew Pryor (you gotta give him that).  Six of the council incumbency failing to secure reelection at the end of 2019, is Pryor’s pro-development philosophy what the current Council wants?  If not, Richard Carmouche is their guy with Ken Firmin a middle-of-the-road option.

The Council’s Personnel Committee is scheduled to conduct telephone interviews of all applicants on Monday (February 22).