Gonzales turns down zoning change; Emerson may leave

For the second time in recent months, Emerson Process Management is looking for a new home for its proposed regional headquarters.

The City Council rejected a zoning variance Monday night that would have allowed Emerson to locate its $16 million campus on 17.57 acres at the Edenborne development, at Interstate 10 and La. 44. The council voted 3-2 to reject the zoning change, which was unanimously recommended by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

Councilmen Terance Irvin, Gary Lacombe and Timothy Vessel voted against the plan, while Kirk Boudreaux and Kenny Matassa supported the change, which also had the blessing of the city’s administration.

Lacombe, who said he wanted to find a way to keep Emerson in Gonzales, said he voted against the change because Edenborne’s “traditional neighborhood development” zoning code had “very specific” language that prevented C-2 commercial and industrial zoning.

Edenborne co-developer Bill Clark sought a change from traditional neighborhood development to industrial to accommodate Emerson, which needed the industrial zoning for a “laydown yard.”

“Somebody went through a lot of pain to carve that out,” Lacombe said.

Irvin said he agreed with Lacombe’s assertion that an industrial zoning designation does not belong in a traditional neighborhood development, while Vessel said he voted against the plan because it wasn’t “in the best interest of the citizens of Gonzales.”

The decision irked both Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux and Planning and Zoning Commissioner Terry Richey, who helped craft the city’s original traditional neighborhood development language.

“It’s unfortunate that three councilmen voted to keep a company that would’ve brought great economic benefits both in jobs and tax revenue from locating in Gonzales,” Arceneaux said. “Emerson followed the wishes of the citizens who did not want them to locate in another section of this city and made arrangements to locate on the other side of I-10 in an area where it would’ve been an integral part of what is becoming a technical education center for our region.”

Emerson originally planned to locate a $10 million, 105,000-square-foot facility on West Orice Roth Road, but the project stalled after pushback and a lawsuit from area residents.

Company officials then expanded their plans and sought to locate at the Edenborne development where they hoped to partner with River Parishes Community College, which will break ground on a new facility at Edenborne on Thursday.

Marlin Wilson, Emerson’s general manager in Ascension Parish, said after Monday’s meeting that he was “speechless” at the council’s decision, but he did admit that the company now must look at possibly leaving Ascension Parish.

Irvin, however, said he didn’t believe Emerson actually would leave the parish as there are other industrial properties available in Gonzales where the company could locate.

“They’re gonna say that. That’s business,” Irvin said.

Richey, however, said he was “very concerned” that the council’s decision will push the Fortune 500 company away after months of trying to make sure it stayed — and added 50 to 60 new jobs — in Gonzales.

“This was a golden opportunity where y’all kicked them in the butt just to show how smart you are,” Richey told the council.