Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment called Tuesday for a 12-month moratorium on all new residential and commercial construction in the unincorporated parts of the parish.

The announcement came as his parish and others in the region were still responding to a severe rainstorm overnight Tuesday and girding for more rain this week and rising water in Bayou Manchac.

In a statement, Cointment said the delay was necessary so his administration could weigh "all the aspects of the combined impact of additional development and increased frequency of severe weather events currently being experienced in Ascension Parish."

Cointment has asked the parish council to take the first step Thursday in implementing the moratorium.

If adopted, the moratorium would stop future land divisions and also halt the front end of the new neighborhood review pipeline.

But, as proposed, it would not stop projects that have already made it through that first phase. And it wouldn’t halt construction on projects that have already been fully approved, parish officials noted.

According to parish counts from earlier this month, 1,267 lots in new residential neighborhoods have gotten through that first phase of review, known as preliminary plat approval, and are in some later phase of further review or construction.

Reaction was mixed from Parish Council members, some of whom didn’t get advance notice the moratorium proposal was coming.

“I am very, very disappointed that in the middle of an emergency, this is being propagated. Very disappointed,” Council Chairwoman Teri Casso said. “I have spent half of my day making my fellow councilmen aware of and trying to explain this to them when we are all trying to take care of our citizens.”

At the same time, she said, she agreed with the need for a moratorium with a “very strong timeline.”

“It is needed in order to get some work done,” said Casso, who has faced criticism for being too close to developers.

Councilman Michael Mason said he was one of two councilmen Cointment contacted to sponsor putting the moratorium on the agenda. While he said he understood Casso’s concerns about the timing, he said it “was just time” to act.

The storm was latest of several events to which the council can point to argue the parish needed to go forward, he said.

Mason said homeland security officials have informed him at least 30 homes flooded in the recent rain.

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“This is a good way for us to take a breather and really dive into this ongoing issue,” he said.

Karen Zito, president and CEO of the Home Builders Association of Greater Baton Rouge, said that, while a moratorium and the current disaster might force elected officials to focus on this issue, the moratorium will “worsen shortages of affordable, attainable and appropriate housing for Ascension Parish.”

“This undercuts our economic competitiveness by reducing our ability to attract and retain the workforce high-quality employers need while compounding the difficulties of residents struggling to find housing that meets their needs,” Zito said.

She noted that a study by the National Association of Home Builders found regulations at all levels of government account for 24.3% of the price for a new single-family home.

In the statement Tuesday, Cointment said his administration would consider several concepts during the moratorium, including a new drainage impact fee, reductions in housing density, new rules for neighborhood construction and storm-water detention, new rules on the use of fill dirt, and the exploration of regional storm-water detention areas.

Each of those measures would attempt to fill shortcomings the parish leader says he sees in Ascension’s current rules.

The parish already has a half-cent sales and a property tax for drainage and also has development rules designed to require builders to mitigate the off-site drainage impact of new development.

“Evidence suggest that this isn’t enough,” Cointment said, “and more needs to be done to improve the capacity of our drainageways.”

Cointment said the drainage impact fees would be targeted to specific projects in advance and attempt to help fill the existing shortfall.

Cointment — a Republican who for years was a frequent critic of the way the parish grew while running a land surveying business — was elected in the fall of 2019 with promises to better control growth and improve infrastructure.

He took office in 2020 amid several years of political conflict over growth after the August 2016 flood.

At issue then was continued development in the lowest areas of the parish and the frequent use of earthen fill and ponds, which are engineered to hold rainfall runoff and mitigate against the risks in those flood-prone areas.

Parish officials then had tried to strike a compromise with new limits, but Cointment wants to revisit the issue.

Since taking office, Cointment has also presided over a string of tropical storms, threatening hurricanes and other events that have prompted use of the parish's pumping stations more frequently than in recent memory.

In Ascension, the council takes two meetings to adopt an ordinance. Action Thursday night in Gonzales would not be final.

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