Residents considering lawsuit to overturn Jamestown Crossing approval

Residents of Quail Hollow turn out on Tuesday to hear options

Approval of Jamestown Crossing’s two-phased, 172-lot preliminary plat on May 9 is the latest and, arguably, most egregious outrage perpetrated on the citizens of Ascension by the pro-development lackeys constituting the majority voting bloc of the Planning Commission.  Confusion giving way to frustration morphing into anger, residents of one nearby subdivision have had all they care to take.  What to do?

30 or so residents of Quail Hollow subdivision, most if not all of whom appeared to contest Jamestown Crossing six days ago, reconvened on Tuesday to consider their options.  The meeting was organized by Jeff Pettit and Kimberly Christy who started Ascension Citizens Group on social media.

Matt Pryor has a point: Council is to blame for 4-3 approval of Jamestown Crossing

Potential appeals to a pro-development Parish Council, which appointed four rubber stamps to occupy a solid majority of Planning seats in the first place, were quickly discarded as an abject waste of time and breath.  In any event, Planning decisions are final and not subject to Council approval like Zoning decisions are.  Legal action is the last and only resort, and the door might be ajar.

The Jamestown Crossing majority (Chairman Matt Pryor, Commissioners Julio Dumas, Morrie Bishop, and Ken Firmin) ignored the strictures of Ascension’s Unified Land Development Code- Section 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.

Planning Director Jerome Fournier informed the May 9 Planning Commission that Hwy 930, which bisects Jamestown Crossing’s two phases, averages 17.3′ in width.  Phase II’s ingress/egress point is Hwy 930 while Phase I utilizes Parker Rd.

Challenges to planning decisions are notoriously hard to win, no matter what Matt Pryor and Ascension’s Legal Counsel would have you believe.  Assorted developers, with assistance from Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton, have employed the threat of personal liability to cow individual planning commissioners into submission for years, all while knowing it’s a bogus threat.  In 2006 Parenton penned a letter to the 11 members of the Planning Commission (it was abolished in December of 2011 and reconstituted in its current seven-seat configuration)…

which stated “the approval or disapproval of subdivision plats is considered to be legislative and therefore personal liability does not attach unless you, as a Commissioner, are shown to be arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable…”

In 2015 Parenton e-mailed planning commissioners to warn them that Ascension Parish would not provide representation in the event they were sued by a developer whose subdivision plat was denied.  Neither would the parish “indemnify” individual commissioners against civil damages.

While Parenton’s letters envisioned a disappointed developer filing suit against commissioners, the court’s are available to garden variety citizens, feeling forgotten by their elected representatives, too.  The burden of proof to overturn, that the commission’s action was “arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable,” is onerous though ignoring Section 17-4032 might just clear the hurdle.

Are those frustrated residents willing to contribute their hard-earned cash and take the Planning Commission to court; naming Matt Pryor, Julio Dumas, Morrie Bishop, and Ken Firmin as individual defendants?  Oh, the irony!

Success could derail Phase II, and not just temporarily.  On Thursday the Parish Council is set to take up a recommendation from its Transportation Committee; (8) Consideration of changes to the Traffic Impact Study Policy (Transportation Committee), which could transform the way developers do business in Ascension Parish.

“The Council will vote on whether or not to implement Traffic Impact policy utilized by St. Tammany Parish tomorrow night,” said Jeff Pettit.  “That policy prohibits development where an intersection Level of Service is worse than “D” which, had it been adopted by Ascension, would have prohibited both phases of Jamestown Crossing.”

Note Level of Service for Hwy 42/930 northbound intersection

The Transportation Committee chair, Councilman Aaron Lawler, attended Tuesday’s meeting.  His committee took up the issue in April of 2017, ultimately recommending adoption of the more stringent Traffic Impact policy to the full council on May 7 when Urban Systems, Inc. presented its findings.

District 7 Councilman Aaron Lawler

Lawler cautioned that implementation “is not a done deal” because five colleagues must join him to enact the policy.  Some don’t want the more stringent policy at all, other council members have suggested “delaying implementation for six months” or so.  He would not identify those council members except for Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee whose support of the recommendation is beyond question “even though we don’t talk.”

That’s a whole other issue.

Satterlee was first to broach the Traffic Impact Study policy in the Strategic Planning Committee he chairs.  It was taken over by Transportation last April.  Last week Aaron Lawler resigned his seat on Strategic Planning.

For his part, Doc Satterlee eagerly confirmed his colleague’s assessment.

“Strengthening our Traffic Impact policies is a vital piece of business for the long-suffering people of Ascension Parish.  Traffic studies were deemed ‘worthless’ by former Parish Engineer Bob Horner three years ago and it is past time to right that wrong,” Satterlee declared.  “I simply can’t imagine which of my colleagues could oppose immediate implementation of Urban Systems’ recommendation.”

A roomful of frustrated residents would agree.