Fabricator to expand, add jobs
by kate stevens
Special to The Advocate
July 05, 2012
GONZALES — Before a standing room-only audience, the City Council voted 3-1 Monday to rezone an 18-acre parcel from residential to C-2 commercial so Emerson Process Management, a Fortune 500 company, can continue with plans to build a $10 million regional campus expansion project on the site on the north side of West Orice Roth Road.
“I’m excited,” said Marlin Wilson, Emerson’s project leader, adding the project has been two years in the making. He also is general manager at one of Emerson’s operations in Ascension Parish.
Councilmen Ronald Waguespack, Kirk Boudreaux and John Cagnolotti voted for the ordinance change based on the recommendation of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
Councilman Terance Irvin voted against the ordinance change.
Councilman Kenneth Matassa did not attend Monday’s meeting. Mayor Barney Arceneaux said Matassa was on vacation.
Emerson Process Management is a St. Louis company that refurbishes and remanufactures valves for industrial plants. The corporation has two sites in the unincorporated areas of the parish, company officials have said.
The company’s expansion would be around 105,000 square feet and include a regional headquarters for Instrument and Valve Services, a subsidiary of Emerson and a training center with a lab to simulate plant control systems. The campus would consolidate six Emerson or subsidiary operations in Louisiana, including the two in the parish.
Company officials have said the expansion will bring about 180 permanent jobs to Gonzales with an annual payroll of $9.2 million. Emerson has been in Ascension Parish for 40 years.
The proposed ordinance changed generated a great deal of interest in the community and alleged reports of misinformation from both opponents and supporters.
About 60 people crowded the small council chambers on South Irma Boulevard on Monday night.
Community leader Tyrone Smith said he represented local residents who are not opposed to Emerson coming to Gonzales but who are against the efforts to rezone that particular tract from residential to commercial.
The expansion would be on about 18 acres of a 75-acre wooded tract near South Veterans Boulevard and West Orice Roth, near the Interstate 10/La. 30 interchange, just down the road from Gonzales Middle School and homes on Darla Avenue.
Opponents fear an increase of truck traffic and say the rezoning will be too close to homes in primarily minority neighborhoods and to the middle school when other properly zoned sites are available in the city.
“It should be apparent to the council that the community is opposed to the zone change,” Smith said. “We are asking the council to put this issue to rest and recommend Emerson to ask for a permit in an area zoned for fabrication.”
Smith also asked the City Council to stick to the city’s comprehensive master plan that dictates “fabrication plants” are to be built in an area already zoned for industrial use, not a residential zone.
“Because Emerson has come to town, will you throw the master plan in the trash?” said Melvin Irvin Jr., father of Councilman Terance Irvin.
Then, Melvin Irvin Jr. threatened legal action if the City Council voted to support the ordinance change. “This will end up in court! It’s what’s going to happen! That’s where we’re headed!”
Councilman Terance Irvin, who lives near the project in Kennedy Heights, said he planned to vote against the ordinance change to preserve the residential areas of the city, including the neighborhoods near the land Emerson wished to build on.
Irvin said he did not want Emerson to leave Gonzales and believed the company would stay here.
“I’m asking this council to represent this corporation called the city of Gonzales,” Irwin said.
Supporters of the project also spoke Monday.
“Please don’t pass this golden opportunity up,” former City Councilman Alvin “Bully” Dragg said.
“The economic benefits absolutely speak for themselves,” said Roy Quezaire, Jr., a former Ascension Parish School Board member and former state representative from Donaldsonville.
Both Arceneaux and Waguespack agreed the most concerns they had heard over the project were about increased traffic.
They both pledged to work on traffic issues for the city, with Waguespack saying if the land remained residential and 200 homes were built there, traffic would still be a concern.