Future of M.P. Evans land discussed

Gary Binns is confident the 341 acres of land in south Gonzales known as the M.P. Evans property eventually will be developed.

He, like many others in the largest municipality in Ascension Parish, just isn’t sure how that development ultimately will look.

Binns, a commercial real estate developer in Prairieville, is one of the representatives for the estate of the late Merritt P. Evans and Ruth Walker Evans, who owned the property along Interstate 10 and La. 44. Binns said he’s hopeful the development shapes up as closely as possible to the way the Evans heirs originally had planned.

That plan featured a mixed-use development with a roughly 50-50 split between commercial and residential acreage. The commercial development was to be centered along I-10 and La. 44, while the residential component featured mostly single-family housing along La. 941 and farther back from the highways, as well as an apartment complex on La. 44.

The city of Gonzales, at the estate’s request, annexed 401 acres of the estate in March 2012. The estate sold roughly 60 acres of that parcel along La. 941 to the Ascension Parish School Board for a school to be located in the area. The remaining 341 acres were zoned residential, and the estate’s efforts to have it rezoned to a mixture of commercial and residential haven’t been fruitful to date.

The Gonzales Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted July 1 to reject the rezoning bid, and that recommendation will go before the Gonzales City Council on Monday.

Binns said he’s not sure what will happen to the project, but the estate group is prepared to tweak its plans if necessary. He said the owners didn’t believe a purely residential development was in the best interest of the property, but they will go that route if they are forced.

“I think we’re going to see a 341-acre residential development there,” Binns said. “I think that’s what (city officials) want.”

It’s certainly not what Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux wants to see happen with the property, which is located across La. 44 from the Edenborne development, a traditional neighborhood development at I-10 and La. 44. River Parishes Community College has broken ground on a new campus at the location, while Emerson Process Management is planning a regional headquarters at Edenborne, where Emerson plans to conduct software engineering, training, sales, and fabricating products, along with yard and warehouse operations. The Edenborne neighborhood also will feature a residential development.

Arceneaux said he thinks the M.P. Evans property can succeed as a similar development, though not as a purely commercial project like what can be seen a few miles north at the I-10/La. 30 interchange, which features the Tanger Outlet mall, Cabela’s, restaurants and hotels.

“Something I’ve said from the very beginning is I hoped we would have some commercial development,” Arceneaux said Friday.

Council members said Wednesday they weren’t sure what they will do on Monday. They have the option to accept the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation and reject the rezoning request, or they can overrule the commission and grant the M.P. Evans rezoning.

Councilman Kenny Matassa said “nine times out of 10” the council elects to accept the commission’s recommendation. Matassa and fellow Councilmen Kirk Boudreaux and Tim Vessel said they still needed to do more research on the subject.

Councilman Terance Irvin, who attended the July 1 zoning hearing but said he was “in and out of the meeting,” also said he would like to hear from both sides before making up his mind. He said there are a number of unresolved issues, but there’s no doubt the property is important to the city.

“I think we’re on the right path to hopefully finding a solution,” Irvin said.

Councilman Gary Lacombe did not return a message left on his cell phone requesting comment about the project.

A number of residents who live along La. 941 and Loosemore Road south of the city spoke against the project at two zoning hearings. Chief among their concerns were traffic problems along La. 44 and drainage concerns with adding concrete on the 341 acres that currently is pastureland.

Arceneaux, who has pushed for more economic development in the city, said he understands the concerns of the residents near the property and hopes city officials, the property owners and residents can reach a compromise.

“I, too, have some concerns about traffic along the (La.) 44 corridor,” he said. “I think we need to take a hard look at it. It’s a tough call right now.”

Binns said it’s in the best interest of both the estate and the city to have commercial development on the property. The estate has purchase agreements with a contractor for the residential development, but nothing definitive for where it hoped to bring commercial development. The theory is that bringing residents to the neighborhood will spike an interest in businesses wanting to locate there.

The developers have listened to complaints about the project and made some changes, he said. In addition, the property owners offered to donate thousands of feet of right-of-way to expand La. 44 to four lanes. He’s not sure what else needs to be done, but Binns said the group is willing to listen and do what’s necessary.

“If I thought there was anything else I could have provided the Planning and Zoning Commission, I would have done so,” Binns said. “Without an end user for the commercial development, all I can give them is a vision. This vision is the same vision from before we were annexed. Our plan has not changed appreciably.”