GONZALES — The Ascension Parish Planning Commission on Wednesday reversed its August decision and conditionally approved a large-scale expansion at Houmas House plantation.
Commissioner Julio Dumas’ resolution calls for the proposed Houmas House plan, which centers on a steamboat museum partially funded with a $5.2 million federal grant, to move forward only if the Ascension Parish Council votes to abolish the planned unit development overlay ordinance that has blocked the proposal.
Commissioner Bob Nance, who voted against the conditional approval last month, said he has been trying to abolish the PUD overlay since the spring.
Nance headed a Planning Commission subcommittee that proposed doing away with the PUD overlay earlier this year, but the Parish Council failed to take action, Nance said.
Thursday night’s Parish Council agenda includes an item to repeal the PUD overlay zone of the Ascension Parish Unified Land Development Code.
PUDs are a flexible style of development hailed in the mid-2000s as a way for Ascension to catch up with and control growth. Three Ascension Parish Council districts, including the one in which Houmas House is situated, have special overlay districts that control development on parcels larger than three acres.
Houmas House owner Kevin Kelly is proposing to build a hotel, a series of bed and breakfast cottages along an oak alley, conference rooms and other improvements in connection with a steamboat museum.
Ryan E. Johnson, a Baton Rouge attorney representing Kelly, said the commission made a mistake when it failed to conditionally approve Kelly’s proposal.
“The sole basis for the commission’s denial of the project, as we understand it, was that the parish PUD overlay district applied to the Houmas House property and that the proposed projects were inconsistent with the requirements of the overlay,” Johnson said.
In outlining his grounds to appeal the commission’s Aug. 10 decision, Johnson said PUD rules shouldn’t be applied to the Houmas House property because it is already in an historic district overlay that controls its development.
More than two dozen residents and business owners asked the council to conditionally approve the Houmas House project, calling it a positive economic development boost for the parish.
Charla Johnson, an opponent of the PUD rules and a candidate for Parish Council, said “the technicality everyone is talking about is a law.”
She said it is unfair for other residents in the PUD overlay district to have to follow the law while Houmas House receives special treatment.
“It’s about landowners’ rights,” she said.
Johnson, and a handful of people speaking against the conditional approval, said that while they supported Kelly’s proposal, they favored getting rid of the PUD overlay before his project is approved.