Subdivision rules adopted in Ascension Parish

The Ascension Parish Council adopted broad new rules for basic subdivisions Thursday that would require sidewalks, private parks and trees for the first time as a minimum standard.

The decision, which has the potential to change the way Ascension Parish grows in the face of new industrial development, prompted a distillation of years of debate among various councils and parish Planning Commissions over how firm a hand government should have in shaping development in the fast-growing parish.

After a motion to delay the vote failed, the key subdivision ordinance change passed 6-4, with Councilmen Oliver Joseph, Todd Lambert, Bryan Melancon and Daniel “Doc” Satterlee voting no. All other council members were for it except Councilman Chris Loar, who does not vote as chairman unless to break a tie.

The changes, which also would alter the way allowable density is calculated, have been the subject of months of work by the parish Planning and zoning Commission dating back to early 2013.

Commissioner Gasper Chifici detailed the numerous meetings held on the changes and summed up the impact of the rules.

“But this is all about what we want this parish to look like going forward. We’re not going to stop people from moving here, or wanting to move here,” Chifici said.

“We can continue, I suppose, to build subdivisions like we’re building them now. Is that what you want to see for the future of Ascension Parish? That’s really all this is about.”

On one side, some council members had philosophical concerns that the parish telling residents what kind of subdivision they should live in smacks of Washington, D.C.-style elitism and worry the rules would price out the parish’s working class and young families with high-dollar subdivisions.

They argued while the council should pursue building codes, zoning and sewer improvements as a matter of safety, the council should let the market decide what kind of subdivisions exist in Ascension.

Satterlee seized on Chifici comment that the regulations were about what “we want this parish to look like going forward.”

“When we do that to our subdivision code, to me this is akin to like we see in Washington, D.C., this government elitism attitude. We are telling the folks of Ascension Parish, ‘We know what’s best for you,’ ” said Satterlee.

On the other, some council members saw the rules as a reasonable, if imperfect, reaction to improve the community good after years of subdivisions being built by the private market to a bare minimum standard that have not provided a place for children even to keep their bikes out of the street.

“So let’s be honest about what our job really is. It is to set those overall standards for the community — what’s in the best interest of the community versus what’s in the best interests of the individual property owner,” Loar said.

“I don’t think that’s government elitism. I think that’s doing the job people elected us to do.”