5-2 Commission vote approves 90-lots on Cornerview; 4-3 approve Hwy 44 final plat without promised right-of-way

Planning Director Jerome Fournier (l) and ERA Shawn Sherrow at February 2017 Strategic Planning meeting

On Wednesday two Planning Commissioners voted to deny the 90-lot Cambre Oaks Subdivision preliminary plat, intended south of Cornerview Road, across from Legacy Oaks and Gonzales Primary School; which means five approved the 30-acre development just west of Gonzales’ city limits.  Commissioners Aaron Chaisson and Wade Schexnaydre based their denials on worsening traffic congestion at three intersections, citing “the cumulative effect” of multiple subdivisions which drop Levels of Service while no single development requires improvements.  Commissioners Matthew Pryor, Julio Dumas, Morrie Bishop, Tony Christy and Ken Firmin were unconvinced.

Neither was Ascension Planning Director Jerome Fournier who sat in silence as the parish Engineering Review Agent (ERA) offered another tortured explanation why Cambre Oaks is not required to effectuate traffic improvements; turn lanes and the like.  ERA Shawn Sherrow reviewed the Traffic Impact Study concluding the six second delay at one intersection does not trigger requisite remedial measures, even though Level of Service is reduced by one (or two) letter grade(s) on the accepted A-F scale.

“I’d like to see an independent study,” pleaded Ronald Daigle whose residence abuts the proposed subdivision.

Daigle pointed out that Cambre Oaks’ traffic study omitted traffic generated by Legacy Oaks and Gonzales Primary; neither did its TIS include nearby Boudreaux Road.  Even so, Level of Service dropped from “D” to “E” in two instances, from “C” to “E” in antoher.  Daigle also expressed concern that Cambre Oaks will adversely affect his property’s current drainage, across the proposed development.

All as the Planning Director sat mute.  Which should come as no surprise…

Where Traffic Impact Study improvements go to die

On August 7, 2017 Planning Director Fournier claimed that Ascension’s TIS procedure is more stringent than East Baton Rouge; and as stringent tas St. Tammany’s methodology which includes, at Section 40-042.70 of its development code:

“A proposed development…shall be disapproved when the results of the required TIS demonstrate that the proposed project will overburden the roadway system or cause a reduction in service of affected roadways below the adopted Level of Service (LOS) ‘D’. In the case where the existing Level of Service (LOS) is below ‘D’, the mitigation efforts shall improve the LOS to ‘D’ or above.”

Fournier would go on to discount his predecessor’s proposal to have the parish hire firms to undertake TIS (instead of developers) saying:

“We don’t see any advantage to the parish in contracting for TIS (as opposed to the developer).  We’re gonna get, basically, the same studies,” he told the Council Transportation Committee five months ago.

Last night Fournier would inform the Commission that traffic and drainage study procedures are being reviewed by HNTB, the single largest engineering firm recipient of Ascension taxpayer dollars, in separate studies.  In 2017 the Parish Council appropriated over $1 million to undertake two studies intended to create a Transportation Master Plan and Floodplain Management Plan.

That’s in addition to the $450,000 allocation for Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX) to produce a new Master Land Use Plan (with assistance from that other engineering beneficiary of Council largesse, CSRS which, by the way, employs Shawn Sherrow).

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In other business the Commission set the unofficial record for the lengthiest Consent Agenda in parish history.  It took 35 minutes to sort through the Final Plat submitted for Oak Lake Subdivision; across Hwy 44 from Conway Subdivision which is being constructed on acreage recently annexed by the City of Gonzales.  Developer, DR Horton-Gulf Coast, Inc., agreed to build a fourth lane onto Hwy 44 and dedicate necessary acreage to Ascension Parish on which to do so. In return for which the development will receive credits against its Transportation Impact Fee obligation.

The DR Horton boys: Jake Lambert (left) and Deric Murphy (courtesy of Channel 21)

Quality Engineering’s Deric Murphy sought Final Plat approval on Wednesday’s Consent Agenda even though expected verbiage granting Right-of-Way was omitted from his drawings; in error according to Murphy who was accompanied to the podium by DR Horton’s other engineer, Jake Lambert.

“I’m not willing to give the parish property until I have an agreement with the state,” Lambert’s explanation belied Murphy’s claim to have omitted the verbiage by mistake.

Lambert’s attempts to assuage Commission concerns were successful enough; four commissioners would eventually approve the Final Plat, trusting DR Horton to dedicate property for Hwy 44’s expansion within 90 days.  Five commissioners ignored Parish Planner Eric Poche who opined:

“The parish has been promised, and that right-of-way needs to be delivered before the Final Plat is signed.  That dedication needs to take place.  If they don’t build the road, they don’t get their credits.”

Oak Lake “could start pulling permits” as soon as it gets final plat approval according to Planning Director Fournier.

“So what you’re saying is the 90 days may eventually mean nothing,” asked Chairman Matthew Pryor.  “We can approve it as is, and there’s no guarantee in here that the right-of-way will ever be dedicated; or we can deny the final plat approval until the right-of-way is dedicated.”

Or four commissioners; Morrie Bishop, Ken Firmin, Tony Christy, and Wade Schexnaydre can disregard Planning Staff’s opinion and approve Oak Lake’s Final Plat in the hope that right-of-way is dedicated in 90 days.  Commissioner Julio Dumas found himself in the minority, only because he thought 90 days too long (he preferred 60 days).

Pryor and Commissioner Aaron Chaisson voted to deny based on the Parish Planner’s reasoning.

It all proves one point: A healthy majority of Ascension’s Planning Commission adheres to Planning Staff’s opinion, only when it jibes with their wishes.

 

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