Gonzales development debate continues

Site back before planning panel

M.P. Evans development representatives will go before the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission for the third consecutive month on Aug. 5 in hopes of reaching an agreement that could spur commercial and residential growth along Interstate 10 and La. 44.

The Gonzales City Council on Monday kicked the project back to the Gonzales Planning and Zoning Commission, which last week voted unanimously to recommend rejecting a rezoning bid from the estate of the late Merrit P. Evans Jr. and Ruth Walker Evans that would have turned a 341-acre parcel into a community development featuring businesses, homes and apartments.

The city annexed the property, along with an approximately 60-acre tract adjacent to the development that has been sold to the Ascension Parish School Board, in March 2012. It is zoned as R-15 single-family residential, which is the city’s most-restrictive residential zoning, city officials have said.

The estate is asking to have the property rezoned for commercial use as well as less restrictive single-family and multi-family residential.

Both commissioners and council members want more information.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding this,” Councilman Kirk Boudreaux said.

Councilman Gary Lacombe said if the council had voted to reject the rezoning bid, the project would have been delayed for six months before it could be brought before the council again, so he supported waiting another month.

“In the spirit of trying to keep this thing moving, let’s get some of the people around a table and see if we can find a solution,” Lacombe said.

Several residents who live along La. 44 and La. 941 near the property — as they have done at two previous zoning hearings — spoke against the project on Monday.

They again raised concerns about traffic infrastructure, drainage and the loss of their rural way of life.

Community activist Theresa Robert said she is hopeful that residents’ concerns will not be ignored by the property developers.

“I think it’s really important that we are able to have some real say-so,” Robert said.

Sidney Marchand, an attorney representing the estate, said he’s still unsure what will happen next, but he’s hopeful everyone can agree on an acceptable compromise.

He said that even though he pushed for a firm decision from the Planning and Zoning Commission last week, he was thankful the council decided not to reject the estate’s request.

“If they had denied our request tonight, we would have had to wait six months and start all over,” Marchand said.

Frank Cagnalotti, the chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, pledged to the council and residents that the commission would work tirelessly to make sure the best decision is made for all parties involved.

“We will be as serious as we can be,” he said. “We will use due diligence in any decision we make. We will not rush into anything.”