Wanna slow subdivision development? Implement drainage regs like Tangipahoa just did

Tangipahoa’s Parish Council just approved regulations disallowing subdivision developers from building houses in wetlands and flood zones.  Meanwhile, in Ascension Parish where Councilman Dempsey Lambert chairs East Ascension Drainage Board, the governing authority continues to kick the can down the road.  Why?

Because implementation of already proposed revisions would curtail irresponsible subdivision development in Ascension?   Lambert and certain of his colleagues (those who continue to reappoint Planning Commissioners Matthew Pryor, Morrie Bishop and Julio Dumas for instance) have demonstrated their disinclination to address over-development without adequate infrastructure in any meaningful way.

Compare Ascension’s Counctil to its  Tangipahoa counterpart.  According to The Advocate the latter just adopted new drainage ordinances in which: 

Only a small percentage of wetlands can be mitigated and used…And those areas must be dedicated to infrastructure, such as roads and drainage canals and cannot be developed with houses.”

Ascension Parish, one year after the Great Flood of 2016, hired HNTB engineers to recommend similar improvements to its Floodplain ordinance.  HNTB delivered the finished product in June, recommending a maximum of three feet of fill material on ALL Major and Minor Subdivisions as well as Commercial Developments.  Admittedly, not as strict as Tangipahoa’s but better than nothing.

Section 17-507 of Ascension’s Unified Land Development Code is entitled Placement of Fill.  Paragraph B.3 regulates development of lots “where greater than 36″ of fill is required.”  In June HNTB proposed eliminating the entire paragraph, meaning more than three feet of fill would never be allowed.  Consideration of the recommendation was scheduled for July’s meeting of East Ascension Drainage Board but was removed from the agenda.

Fast forward six months and HNTB revised its recommendations to leave Paragraph B.3 intact.  Pocketing several hundred thousand dollars, it appears HNTB is more than willing to sacrifice its independent engineering judgment on the altar of political expediency and the ability to keep cashing checks drawn on Ascension Parish’s account.

HNTB has an awful lot to recommend on detention/retention ponds too.  The firm also produced updated procedures for Drainage Impact Studies required of every subdivision development coming before the parish’s Planning Commission.

Who knew? Drainage Impact Studies just as “worthless” as Traffic counterparts

Comprehensive revisions to those procedures are being recommended by HNTB whose proposal triples the size of current DIS policy.

Tangipahoa’s governing authority imposed a four-month moratorium on development which ended with enactment of its new regulations.  Its Ascension counterpart did something very similar when Transportation Impact Fees were enacted in April of 2016 after the Strategic Planning Committee recommended either the fees or the moratorium.  In May 2017 Strategic Planning tried it again, this time linking a moratorium to an ordinance limiting fill material.

The effort petered out at the full Council’s June 1, 2017 meeting when motions to limit fill material in new subdivisions to 2′ and 1′ failed.

Councilman Randy Clouatre made a motion to “defer the item to (President Kenny Matassa’s) Administration for further study and development of modification to the Floodplain ordinance” where it, unsurprisingly, languished.  Clouatre, who chaired East Ascension Drainage Board in 2013, expends quite a lot of effort talking about drainage issues without ever taking any action (unless delay, deferral, and procrastination can be considered action).

Clouatre takes a back seat to his successor in the EAD chair, Councilman Dempsey Lambert (who has occupied the chair since the beginning of 2014).  As is his custom, Lambert skipped that controversial vote on June 1, 2017.  Lambert  begged off of Strategic Planning in early 2016 rather than face a vote on the Impact Fee/moratorium issue affecting new subdivisions, sure to alienate his supporters in the development community.

We will see how many of his colleagues share Lambert’s pro-development leanings when EA Drainage meets again.  The first meeting of each year includes election of the “new” chairman.

Election Day, the real one, is:

October 12, 2019

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