Planning Commission woes

Leslie D. Rose

     The Ascension Parish Planning Commission could soon be at a stand-still in light of several resignations over the course of just one week.

     Gasper Chifici was the first of the commissioners to resign, citing business conflicts of interest as the engineering firm where he works will be placing bids on Ascension Parish jobs in the near future.

     The following day, Commissioner Joshua Ory presented intent of resignation to Council Chairman Randy Clouatre. In his letter, Ory stated his young family as the driving force behind his not being able to complete the last year of his third term.

     In the days following the resignations of Chifici and Ory, the seven-man department dropped to just two commissioners.

     Now serving as chairman and co-chairman respectively, the only two commissioners planning to remain are Matt Pryor and Morrie Bishop. If at least two more commissioners aren’t elected by the Feb. 8 meeting, when resignations are final, the commission will not be legally allowed to function, as a rule states there must be at least four commissioners to operate as a board.

     The resignations came quickly following a public petition started by nine-year Ascension Parish resident, Jeff Pettit, who stated that he moved to Ascension Parish to get away from the hustle and bustle of Baton Rouge.

     In the first part of his petition, Petit demands for the current Planning and Zoning Commission be replaced.

     “Ascension’s Planning and Zoning Commission members routinely ignore the law, both substantive and procedural, in approving new subdivision preliminary plats while current infrastructure is woefully inadequate to serve current residents,” the petition states. “The commission’s failure or refusal to implement and/or consult the 2003 Master Land Use Plan jeopardizes our health, safety, and welfare while eroding our quality of life.

     Ascension parish transportation, drainage, sewage, public safety, public education, and other vital infrastructure are already overburdened and 6,000 new homes are being planned right now; 4751 in Ascension’s unincorporated areas and 1281 in the City of Gonzales.

     Individual commissioners insist they lack discretionary authority to deny these plats without citing any legal authority in support of their claim. We disagree.

     I’ve seen several Planning Commission meetings and I have yet to witness what I’d consider ‘serious evaluation of the merit of each project presented for their review’ when it comes to the current body. Individual commission members claim they have no legal authority to deny preliminary plats but have never cited any law which limits their authority.”

     While it is not clear if the petition is the cause for any of the resignations, the purpose of the planning commission remains in question, and with the lack of a vetting board, so does the development of Ascension Parish.

     Recently the planning commission approved 568 new lots and learned of the petition mentioned 4,751 residential lots being built or  under planning review. The commission also recommended a zoning change that would allow another 1,100 lots at the now defunct Riverton Plantation along La. 22 and down the road from La. 44 – highways where DOTD studies are underway.

     In its La. 44 study, DOTD is in the early stages of developing the scope of work for the study. The limits of the study are from I-10 to La. 22, so this does not include the area as far south as Burnside, said Anastasia Semien, a DOTD spokeswoman.

     Also in accordance with rapid growth, DOTD is evaluating several alternatives for improvements to the corridor as well as the interchange.    

     “We anticipate a summer 2016 completion for this study,” Semien said.

     With many plans up in the air, one thing is certain – Ascension Parish continues to grow.