Ascension Parish Council returns to virtual meetings after attendee tests positive for coronavirus

Michael Tortorich
Members of the Ascension Parish Council meet virtually June 23 via the parish government YouTube channel.

The Ascension Parish Council switched back to virtual meetings after an individual who attended committee meetings tested positive for COVID-19.

Martin McConnell, a parish government spokesperson, said in a press release that the video conference format was used out of an abundance of caution for both officials and the public. 

The meeting, usually scheduled on Thursday, was postponed to June 23.

Previously, parish officials held committee and full council meetings in person, with social distancing guidelines and plexiglass protection in place, in both the Donaldsonville and Gonzales courthouse locations. 

Some council members, government officials, and attendees could be seen at the in-person meetings without any kind of facial covering.

The person in attendance who tested positive has not been identified.

During the meeting, members of the council discussed blighted properties throughout the parish.

A decision to condemn an abandoned mobile home blocking a public right-of-way prompted the conversation. 

Chase Melancon, who represents District 6, said he has obtained copies of ordinances from both Gonzales and Sorrento to guide the council in addressing such matters.

“This is an issue parish-wide,” Melancon said. “Some time late this year we’ll be addressing this. I’m going to appreciate everybody’s input into the blighted properties all over the parish, and see what we can do with the property owners next door.”

District 1 representative Alvin Thomas agreed, and said he looks forward to working together to address the issue.

When Corey Orgeron of District 4 asked if the parish has a definition of a blighted property, parish attorney O’Neil Parenton explained that the abandoned property blocking the right-of-way was a different issue.

“I want to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples, specifically,” Orgeron said.

Melancon added that the ordinance will be tough to put together, as there is a “fine line” between property rights and neighbor’s rights.

“This is an issue that’s growing in all districts, from Prairieville to Donaldsonville,” Melancon concluded.

In a separate agenda item, the council approved the amended Hartman task order for the individual treatment unit (ITU) inspection program.

Council member Aaron Lawler amended the amount as not to exceed $47,500 for the mapping of ITUs.

Orgeron said he believes less expensive methods could be used, suggesting utilizing the services of the parish assessor’s office.

Chief Administrative Officer John Diez said the assessor has a GIS system, but it is not primarily what the office does.

“It’s a little more than just dots on a map,” Diez said.

“Are we putting money out there we don’t have to necessarily spend?” Orgeron asked.

Lawler said the parish must identify exactly where the ITUs are, as well as the type. 

“The location of the units does play a role in this,” Lawler said.

He added that it’s a preliminary step that’s going to have to be done eventually. 

“This is a precursor to us going out and possibly putting this out to bid to get a better contract on it. This is completely separate from the sewer plan. There’s no relation there,” Lawler said.

The council voted 9-2 in approval. Orgeron and Dempsey Lambert represented the no votes.

In a separate item, the council voted 8-3 to accept a Zoning Commission recommendation to rezone 10 acres along Hwy. 73 from residential to Mixed Use 2. 

Thomas, Orgeron, and Travis Turner represented the nays.

The property is located at the front of The Hollows of Dutchtown subdivision, which is set back 700 feet from the heavily-trafficked Hwy. 73. The property is adjacent to two gas stations near the Interstate 10 exit, as well as a car wash and dental office. The typically bustling area is also near Hwy. 621.

Orgeron said his constituents "came out in droves in opposition to this rezoning effort."

He added that the property owners have not been given any indication as to what plans are in store for the property.

Lawler said he thought the rezoning makes sense relative to the surrounding area.

"We need to look at rezoning the entirety of Hwy. 73, and Hwy. 42 needs the same work by the planning commission to really look into that," Lawler said.

Turner said he was concerned about setting a precedent in rezoning a property and then continuing the process by "going down the line" and making changes.

Also notable: The first regular meeting of July, which had been set for July 2, has been cancelled.