GONZALES — After months of criticism for not saying no to a new development that could stress existing infrastructure, the Ascension Parish Planning Commission on Wednesday denied an 86-home subdivision in Prairieville as neighbors suggested past home projects nearby already have caused severe flooding problems.
The commission, which in the past has refused to follow its own parish planning staff recommendations to withhold approval, bucked the staff Wednesday night in a 3-1 vote to deny the Brookstone subdivision proposed on 29 acres of pasture east of Braud Road just south of Parker Road, or La. 933.
In casting the third and final vote, commission Chairman Matt Pryor said he was reluctantly voting to deny until the developer can work out the issues.
“So that the people who are there, who have a vested interest in their homes and the personal property that they’ve developed and where they want to live, can enjoy that and not worry about what more an increased amount of water flowing off the property will do,” Pryor said.
Commissioners Morrie Bishop and Jackie Callender also voted to deny, while Commissioner Joshua Ory voted against denial.
The vote comes as major turnover is coming for the planning body.
Three commissioners stepped down last month. Two more, Ory and Callender, have said they are leaving but stayed on this month to give the new Parish Council time to fill the spots. The commission had the bare minimum necessary for a quorum Wednesday night.
Critics have claimed commissioners failed to use their discretionary authority to deny projects that would put undue stress on infrastructure. Pryor is one who has questioned how much power the commission really has.
But he and other commissioners used that power Wednesday after two parish councilmen — Daniel “Doc” Satterlee and Aaron Lawler — urged the commissioners to flex their authority.
Dawn Mire Alleman, 41, who has lived in the area the past 13 years, said flooding has worsened markedly in the past two years after the Shadows of Ascension and Parker Place Estates subdivisions were built.
Alleman, who said she is not in a flood zone for insurance purposes, said high-water traps her college-age daughters at home because they can’t drive out and has flooded her backyard workshop.
“My request is, I’m not here to stop anybody from building. I’m not stopping any developer, but I would like for us to be able to fix this problem because there is a real problem,” Alleman said.
Under long-standing parish rules, developers must show their projects won’t worsen runoff — during moderate rain storms only — after construction is finished.
But Parish Engineer Rhonda Braud, who initially withheld drainage study approval but granted it Wednesday afternoon under new loosened requirements, told the commissioners the drainage issues aren’t a “one-person problem.” She said the problems could result from old drainage engineering miscalculations that subsequent subdivision projects have relied on and only worsened the issue.
The broader drainage problems are in an area bounded by Parker Road on the north; La. 44 on the east; Braud Road, or La. 929, on the west; and Abby James Road on the south.
Braud said parish officials have not yet identified what that problem is but said it involves at least seven subdivision filings and three engineering firms. Officials have asked Brookstone developer America Homeland owned by Kevin Nguyen to work with engineer Mickey Robertson, who handled some of the other projects, to find a solution.
Editor’s note: The final paragraph of the story was changed on Feb. 11, 2016, to correct the name of the developer.