On Wednesday a divided Planning Commission approved Windermere Crossing Subdivision, cutting a deal with Dantin Bruce Development, LLC which included terms outside the commission’s authority to execute. The preliminary plat under consideration included a single point of ingress/egress on Roddy Road, but the approval added a second on Cannon, contingent upon Dantin Bruce’s widening a section of that narrowest of roadways. Neither the Planning Commission, nor Ascension’s Planning Department, wields the power to authorize any work on a parish road.
You want to stop construction of Windermere Crossing Subdivision? Ascension Parish need only withhold permitting for the proposed widening of Cannon Road, from Roddy to O’Neal roads. Voila…the condition precedent (road widening) fails and no Final Plat may issue from the Planning Commission.
Not only would the condition precedent fail, but the Development Code would prohibit development on the un-widened Cannon Road. Section 17-4032 of the code reads, in pertinent part:
“No major or minor subdivision may be developed on any street which is less than 18’ in pavement width.”
Parish President Clint Cointment’s administration attempted to negotiate a deal with Dantin Bruce aimed at widening Cannon Road to 20′, with curb and gutter. In return for eliminating the Roddy Road entrance to Windermere Crossing the developer was willing to widen Cannon to 18′ over a 5200′ section from Roddy to Hwy 44. The administration considered an agreement whereby Dantin Bruce would put up the equivalent cost of widening Cannon, augmented by the parish through its MoveAscension initiative, to fund the building of a 20′ curb and gutter road.
Commission Chairman Matthew Pryor subverted the negotiation.
“What I am not in favor of, and I will say this for the record, is making that condition subject to a buyout where money goes to the parish,” Pryor opined. “If we are going to put that as a condition, I would consider strongly voting for it. But (only) if it’s a condition that the developer does it (as opposed to putting up the cash equivalent to cost of widening).”
“We’ve seen that go awry,” he added, possibly referencing Dantin Bruce’s Oak Grove Townhouses development. “I just think it’s a bad look.”
What is with all these Dantin Bruce developments?
Along with two other subdivision approvals on Wednesday, it was a bad look indeed. So bad that President Cointment penned a letter to Ascension residents, pledging to propose legislation revamping the parish’s Development Code to the Parish Council. Implementing more stringent development regulation is a steep hill to climb since Cointment, as Chief Executive, lacks a vote.
In fact, his administration has already proposed legislation that, had it been enacted, would have derailed Windermere Crossing. Future legislation can do nothing to stop Dantin Bruce’s latest subdivision, but Cointment’s Permit Department can. Withhold the permit to widen Cannon Road.
With two supportive council members, the administration drafted an ordinance prohibiting new subdivisions with an entrance on any road less than 20′ in width. Councilman Chase Melancon pushed the legislation during a June 11, 2020 meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee he chaired, Councilman Joel Robert moved to forward the ordinance to the full council. Their efforts were met with silence…three members declined to second Robert’s motion.
Councilman Melancon tried again on August 17, 2020 to no avail.
In addition to passing legislation, as Ascension’s governing authority, it is also the Parish Council that appoints seven Planning Commissioners. A pro-development commission has been the rule for some time, a fact that puts the onus on Ascension Parish voters. Six incumbent council members, out of 11, were not reelected in 2019 but pro-development Planning Commissioners continue to be reappointed.
Three commissioners (Chairman Pryor, Ken Firmin, and Richard Carmouche) will see their current terms expire on February 8.
Pryor’s initial appointment came in mid-2014, to finish the unexpired term of Paul Nizzo. He would be reappointed in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Admittedly and unabashedly pro-development, continually reappointing Pryor is a clear signal from the Parish Council.
The same goes for Commissioner Ken Firmin, first appointed to the now defunct Planning Commission Appeals Board in April 2016. During his appellate tenure Firmin sat on a board that overturned denials of Brookstone, Camellia Cove, and Oakbourne subdivision (all in 2016). That three-member Appeals Board was abolished in favor of the Parish Council in January 2017, weeks before Firmin’s initial appointment to the Planning Commission on March 16, 2017, subsequently reappointed in 2019.
Richard Carmouche only recently joined the Planning Commission, having been appointed to finish the unexpired term of Wade Schexnaydre on September 17, 2020. Carmouche, it should be noted, voted to deny all three subdivisions on last week’s agenda.