GONZALES — Facing residential growth that has led to daily traffic nightmares and widespread drainage problems, Ascension Parish leaders are considering a moratorium on new subdivision proposals for all areas outside of Sorrento and Gonzales on the east bank of the Mississippi River.
A five-member Parish Council committee, which backed the proposal unanimously Tuesday, said the six-month moratorium would allow time for the council to consider impact fees on new development.
“This is a short-term sacrifice for a long-term problem,” Councilman Aaron Lawler said Tuesday night. “For too long, we have put off our long-term problems, which have grown and grown, and this is an opportunity to take a little time. Let’s talk about the impact fees because that’s what this is about.”
Just before the Strategic Planning Committee voted, Councilman Bill Dawson read aloud part of the moratorium resolution, including that the parish “has experienced large population growth over the past few decades and the public services in our parish have not been able to expand at the same rate.”
Ascension is perennially one of the state’s fastest-growing parishes, with a population that increased by 8.5 percent between July 1, 2010, and July 1, 2014, to 117,029. In the prior decade, the parish slightly outpaced Livingston Parish as the fastest growing in Louisiana at nearly 40 percent.
The proposed moratorium would be on so-called “major subdivisions” as defined under parish rules, or those with 20 or more lots, and would not affect commercial developments or family partitions, a special kind of rural, small-scale residential development in Ascension Parish tied to familial heirs.
Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton Jr. told the committee that the moratorium, if adopted, would apply only to new proposals and not subdivisions already under construction or those that have been preliminarily approved.
The moratorium also would not apply to the parish’s west bank nor its three municipalities — Gonzales, Donaldsonville and Sorrento.
The moratorium would not take effect until an ordinance is approved by the 11-member council, which likely would not consider the issue until April due to public notice and procedural requirements.
Parish President Kenny Matassa said Wednesday he does “not believe a moratorium is required in order to accomplish impact fees.”
Asked for comment on whether he would consider using his veto power if the moratorium is approved by the council — given his views on promoting economic development, Matassa said in a statement that the decision will be the council’s but worried about the impact on businesses and jobs.
“I hope and pray it would be minimal,” Matassa said. “In the end, this is the council’s decision, and my administration will enforce any ordinance that is passed.”
Before the vote Tuesday, Paul Johnson, who lives on La. 621 just east of the I-10/Prairieville interchange, was among several residents who spoke for the moratorium and impact fees.
He told the committee he is angry about what’s happening in the parish. He said he must fight a wall of traffic on La. 621 in the morning and, despite promises from parish officials and the developer of Wrenwood subdivision on La. 42 several years ago, some of his family’s property next to that neighborhood now floods because its drainage was cut off when the subdivision was built.
He blamed a recent bush-hogging accident — in which his grandson’s leg was injured and now may be amputated — over the constant flooding he says Wrenwood caused.
“But that’s where the anger comes,” Johnson, 66, said, as Satterlee tried to bring a close to his comments because they went over time. “I apologize. I really don’t mean to get mad, but it’s hard not to. It’s hard not to speak with emotion when these things happen.”
Jameson Chauvin, a developer whose business is based in Ascension, argued a moratorium was not necessary for traffic impact fees. While he said he thought impact fees were unfair, he said businesses need more warning before a moratorium takes effect. He said his company had several projects underway.
“I think if you are going to do a moratorium, I think you need to give fair notice to existing business owners that conduct business in this parish, employ lots of people, provide a tax base for new homes,” Chauvin said.
The council committee that recommended the temporary moratorium is headed by second-term Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee, a proponent of impact fees and slowing residential growth so the parish infrastructure can catch up.
The body also has two newly elected councilmen who have taken tough stands on reining in development, Lawler and Councilman Bill Dawson, of the Pelican Point neighborhood in Burnside.
Talk of impact fees and some kind of building moratorium has been rumbling in the parish for the past few years and was a major campaign issue in fall elections in some council districts, including Lawler’s District 7 in Prairieville.
Among the reasons for the moratorium, Satterlee said, is the slow pace of a council subcommittee developing a proposal for road impact fees, which would be charged on new development only and pay for the impact on roads from growth.
The state Attorney General’s Office opined last year that the fees are not a tax and therefore don’t need voter approval.
The fees are generally aimed at making new development help pay for the impact it creates on roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Billy Aguillard, a developer on the impact fee panel who insists they are a tax, told Satterlee later that his group’s proposal is nearly finished.
The Parish Council considered road impact fees in the mid-2000s, but the concept failed to get the necessary super-majority — eight votes on the 11-member council — by one vote in June 2006.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.