Commission backs traffic impact fees in Ascension

The Ascension Parish Planning Commission backed the concept Wednesday of transportation impact fees on new residential and commercial development.

But the group, which has been discussing the concept for several months, did not recommend to the Parish Council an impact fee ordinance with a suggested fee schedule.

Although the Planning Commission historically has honed a variety of development-related ordinances for the council to consider, commissioners said after their 6-0 vote that they did not see it as their role with respect to the transportation impact fee.

They said the issue of setting appropriate impact fees should be up to the council, possibly through a separate committee that could study the issue in more detail.

“We wanted to put a little wind in their sails to ‘OK, let’s get this started,’ ” Commissioner Donald Songy said after the meeting.

Songy, a former parish school superintendent and backer of the concept, served on a similar study group in 2005 when then-Parish President Ronnie Hughes proposed road impact fees amid the post-Hurricane Katrina building boom.

Impact fees call for new developments to pay a fee to help with the costs it creates when it attracts new residents and cars, but the idea also can generate opposition from builders and raise concerns about housing affordability.

Some communities have impact fees for a variety of municipal services, but Ascension’s old plan focused on roads.

In June 2006, that ordinance, which needed a two-thirds vote to pass, received a seven-person majority on the 11-member council but failed to get the final, eighth vote.

The current Planning Commission has been working off the old ordinance and its fees for discussion purposes.

Planning Director Ricky Compton said after the meeting Wednesday that the council will have to decide whether to hire a firm to decide what current proposed impact fees should be.

The fees in the old impact fee proposal are now nearly nine years old.

“I don’t think you should regurgitate the existing one and just pass it because it’s there,” Compton said.

In 2005, consultant Duncan Associates of Austin, Texas, conducted a study to determine what the fees should be for the market in Ascension then, basing them on road needs, development impacts and the parish tax base.

At the time, the fees were estimated to have generated $2.5 million annually, The Advocate reported then.

Charles Landry, a Baton Rouge lawyer who helped develop the old ordinance, told a Parish Council committee last year that even impact fees already in place need to be updated every so many years with a new study.

The fees in 2005 were predicated on the type of new development and the proposed square-footage in many cases.

Councilman Todd Lambert, who voted against impact fees in 2006, reminded the commissioners that the commercial fees, proposed then at more than $2,000 per 1,000 square foot, raised concerns about pricing out new mom-and-pop businesses.

Councilwoman Teri Casso, who has pushed to restart the impact fee discussion as Council Finance Committee chair, said her committee could consider who would serve in a group to look at the issue.

“I know this is not an easy issue to look at, and I appreciate very much that you did so,” she told the commissioners.