At the urging of Commissioner Robert Burgess Ascension’s Planning Commission undertook a “Discussion of Moratorium” at the end of its agenda Wednesday in Gonzales. The Parish Council’s Finance Committee impaneled an Impact Fee Exploratory Subcommittee, focused on traffic, some months ago and Burgess wanted to explore the advisability of a moratorium on development until the Council decides the fate of impact fees on new development. After each Commissioner weighed in on the topic Chairman Jackie Callender, Sr. moved on without calling for any action.
“We’ve got the subcommittee on impact fees underway,” Burgess noted “and we’ve had lots of discussions about traffic, schools, etc. on virtually every subdivision we look at. I thought it would be good for us to, at least talk about, should we recommend to the Council a moratorium on development until the impact fee is decided one way or another. Otherwise, we’re going to be following our own rules and regs, and adding to the problem.”
But would they be following their own rules and regs? Planning Director Ricky Compton and staff recommended denial of three major subdivisions last month stating:
“Until efforts are made by the Parish Council to address the explosive growth in the Parish, and the un-encumbered impact major subdivision development has on the regions traffic and sewer infrastructure, at this time the staff cannot recommend approval as it is inconsistent with the Parish’s Master Plan.”
District 4 Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee, a former Planning Commissioner himself, assured his successors that they are vested with the discretionary authority to deny subdivision plats based on Compton’s reasoning. Satterlee, who attended Wednesday’s meeting but did not rise to speak, cited two of Ascension Unified Land Development Code’s appendices arguing that Master Land Use Plan and Master Transportation Plan empower the Commission to exercise that discretionary authority.
“These meetings are a waste of my time,” a frustrated Doc Satterlee exited the Council meeting chamber as the Commission recessed before returning as the Zoning Commission.
That August meeting saw a packed house who came to fight those major subdivisions, all of which the Commission approved. Wednesday’s crowd was meager in comparison and not nearly as fervent…a tempest in a teaspoon, given the “drastic” measure being discussed.
That was the word applied to moratoriums by Commissioner Donald Songy who added “it would call attention to the importance of impact fees.”
Every new development conducts studies that conclude no traffic impact but the accumulation of more, and more, subdivisions has a “cumulative effect…Obviously,” Songy added “the traffic we’re in is really, really bad.”
Commissioner Morrie Bishop argued that much of the traffic burdening Ascension roadways comes from outside the parish in the form of commuters traveling to work in Ascension’s burgeoning industrial job market. More jobs are being created every day in the parish and a moratorium would push newly arrived workers to build in neighboring parishes which will profit from the development; leaving Ascension to deal with additional traffic without additional tax revenue.
“I don’t think we should stop all commerce just to make a point to the Council, to try and shame them into doing something,” declared Bishop to the bemusement of Doc Satterlee. (See photo above).
According to Bishop 80% of Ascension is not experiencing the problematic traffic (he cited Donaldsonville and St. Amant specifically) encountered by the residents of north Ascension.
“Lots of people, including Councilman Satterlee, cautioned us that we continue to approve these preliminary plats (at the August meeting),” recalled Commissioner Gasper Chifici. “The point has been made already,” he explained his non-support of a moratorium.
But has it? Has the point been made with sufficient vigor to spur the Parish Council to act? To adopt impact fees which he termed “part of the solution?”
Chifici chairs the impact fee subcommittee which, he said, is scheduled to meet September 29. According to the calendar on Ascension’s government website the meeting is scheduled for 6:00 pm on September 23.
It last met in June when the chairman was accompanied by only two its seven other members, short of a quorum. And Chifici spent the unofficial discussion bringing them up to speed.
And every time a new subdivision plat comes before the Commission it is neighboring landowners, and only neighboring landowners, who appear in opposition.
“We don’t have a general outcry from the population as a whole,” opined Commissioner Matt Pryor. “We have a set of rules that we have to follow (which were adopted by the Parish Council). Presumably, if there was a public outcry they would be more reactive to that… But the Council hasn’t because they don’t have the votes, from what I can understand, to change the land development code.”
Pryor mentioned Constitutional issues found in Takings Clause of the 5th Amendment which reads “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
“We’re not saturated right now,” Gasper Chifici asserted. “People still want to move here. Developers still want to develop.”
What about the residents who are already here?
Three residents who appeared in August to oppose Hidden Farms Subdivision in District 7 north of Hwy 42 returned to observe the proceedings and they left particularly unsatisfied. Having gotten no satisfaction from their own council representative who happens to be running for Parish President…
nor the Commissioners, five of whom sit on the Steering Committee to elect Chris Loar to Ascension’s highest office, they turned to District 4’s Satterlee…
and District 8 candidate Sean Dardeau for answers…
and maybe to vent their frustration after Wednesday’s meeting.
Karen Trichel’s vigorous opposition to one District 7 subdivision included threats of legal action at the August Commission meeting.
Linda Ezernack penned a Letter to the Editor that captured much of the frustration of north Ascension residents. It can be viewed at https://pelicanpostonline.com/?p=6090.
Their battle will only continue. Parish Engineer Rhonda Braud reported 41 new subdivisions are in the pipeline…”a pretty significant number,” along with 26 commercial sites.