DONALDSONVILLE — Fresh off a blue skies inauguration late Monday morning at Ascension’s historic west bank courthouse, the 11 members of the Parish Council gathered four nights later in the same building for the first meeting of their new four-year terms.
They and new Parish President Kenny Matassa were immediately confronted with the problems that vexed their predecessors and were major issues in the fall campaigns that got them elected: growth and infrastructure.
Gonzales-area resident Jeff Pettit, 60, called on the Parish Council to seek an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office clarifying whether the parish Planning Commission has the authority to deny new housing subdivisions over insufficient infrastructure.
Pettit recently created a Change.org petition — it had 166 signatures Thursday night — to remove the Planning Commission for allegedly ignoring the law and approving new housing subdivisions despite lacking adequate infrastructure.
Pettit said state law gives commissioners the authority to deny the projects, but, he said, some commissioners and parish legal advisers say they don’t have the authority. He added that if there is any ambiguity between parish rules and state law, the council should seek a moratorium for up to six months to get the answer.
“As everybody here knows, we’re dumping more and more and more traffic onto our roads,” Pettit said. “We’re playing catch-up now, and I don’t see and I’m sure y’all don’t see and a lot of our citizens don’t see that we will ever catch up if we don’t start to address these issues now in a very direct manner.”
The council-appointed commission came under fire last year as the pace of new projects picked up and as growth became a key issue in the parish presidential and some council campaigns.
Even as residents and some commissioners aired worries about road and other impacts, and despite, in some cases, parish planning staff not recommending approval either due to lacking infrastructure or violations of the master plan, the commissioners approved the new projects.
Pettit’s comments came up as the council was being asked to consider a Planning Commission request to study Ascension’s major road corridors and establish a base line for improvements that could be paid for with possible future road impact fees.
The council ended up sending that proposal to committee because the parish staff already is considering a similar review, but not before Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee pressed for the opinion.
A former planning commissioner, Satterlee invoked Matassa’s call Monday at his inauguration for transparency and urged him to seek the opinion before more studies happened.
“I just want to know. Let’s just settle this. Let’s do it,” said Satterlee, who said he does not individually have the authority to request the opinion.
After the meeting, Matassa, who ran on cutting red tape for new economic development but also dealing with Ascension infrastructure worries, said he could not immediately address that request. He said he wanted to speak with the parish attorney first before he made that decision.
In other action, the council named Councilman Randy Clouatre as chairman for a third time since August 2014, when he took over in the middle of former Councilman Chris Loar’s term.
The council also named Councilman Todd Lambert as vice chairman, replacing Councilman Benny Johnson. The chairmanship and vice chairmanship are for one year each.