The Ascension Parish Planning Commission on Wednesday backed the closing of loopholes in a long-standing practice of allowing families to skirt some development rules when they break up their land and give the new parcels to immediate family.

The practice, known as a family partition, has come under fire in recent months from some on the Parish Council and some residents as being abused to avoid standard development and trailer park construction rules.

In addition to closing the loopholes, the proposed amended family partition rules would state that family partition is a discretionary act the commission can choose not to grant unless certain conditions are met.

The commission has the final say on family partitions.

Clarifying that family partitions are discretionary came at the suggestion of St. Amant resident Sue Heath, 67, who had fought a family partition proposed on La. 936 near her house. The proposed family partition had sparked a new look at the old practice. The commission rejected the partition in August.

“I think first and foremost we have to remember that, and correct me if I’m wrong, the family partition is a nice-to-have thing. It is not mandatory. There are other ways to divide property,” Heath said.

The commissioners agreed and added the amendment when they recommended the new rules unanimously. Commissioner Joshua Ory was absent.

A family partition is simply a way to divide land; give the pieces to children, grandchildren or parents; and allow the creation of new, private access roads that are below standard parish road widths and construction requirements.

Parish officials say the intent of family partitions was to allow families with lots of land to keep their children and grandchildren together on a historic family tract and prevent newly created parcels from being landlocked and denied access to public roads.

But parish officials say they have received complaints that the rules are abused to sell off land to those outside the family or to create rental homes or trailers inside what are essentially substandard developments on narrow, private roads.

Complaints about family partitions have come and gone through the years and led to some modifications to fix past abuses, but the process has continued unabated, as Ascension has grown from a rural parish to a suburban one, as standard subdivision rules have gotten more expensive and as concern about the parish road backlog has grown.

The proposed rules, which must now go before the Parish Council for final approval, would prevent landowners from giving multiple new lots to the same children or grandchildren and prevent landowners from keeping more than one lot after a family partition happens.

The changes would also prevent landowners from breaking up large tracts using the parish’s simple land division rules — which avoids the cost of the more extensive subdivision requirements — and then using a family partition later to open up access to landlocked property.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter at @NewsieDave.