Ascension chamber blasts Gonzales council over rezoning vote

The heads of the Ascension Parish Chamber of Commerce are excoriating the City Council over its recent refusal to rezone a tract that would have been home to a major new business.

The pointed criticism came in an email message Matthew Pryor and Sherrie Despino, the chamber’s chairman and president, respectively, sent Tuesday to Gonzales Mayor Barney Areceneaux.

“The City Council has turned its back on economic prosperity and independence, to the detriment of the businesses and citizens who call Gonzales their home,” the letter states.

The letter called on the councilmen who opposed the rezoning to “put politics aside and start acting in the interest of the community they serve.”

In January, Jimmy Boyce III, of PHL Investments, had presented a request to the Gonzales Planning and Zoning Commision to change the zoning from C-1 commercial to C-2 commercial for close to 22 acres on La. 44 owned by the PriceCo company.

Boyce planned to buy five acres, where he would build and lease a warehouse and distribution center for Crawford Electric. The C-2 zoning allows for special use permits for such construction.

Three councilmen, Timothy Vessel, Terance Irvin and Gary Lacombe, had voiced opposition to the zoning change from the beginning.

In an odd turn of events, the City Council thought the rezoning request had been approved, 2-1, at its meeting on Feb. 24, only to learn a few days later that a majority vote would have needed a count of 3-1 and that the vote was invalid.

Only three council members voted that night: Council members Kirk Boudreaux and Kenny Matassa voted yes; Vessel voted no.

Irvin recused himself from voting, and Lacombe abstained from voting.

The rezoning request died as a result, and Crawford Electric will be building its new location outside the city limits of Gonzales, on La. 30 in Ascension Parish, said Damain Kerek, branch manager with the company.

The original piece of property that Crawford had looked at inside the city limits is a field on La. 44, south of La. 30.

There’s a variety of zoning in the area. The property neighboring the field, along La. 44, is zoned I-1, light industrial, and is home to the SoChem Solutions specialty chemical company.

Next to SoChem is a city wastewater treatment plant, and next to that is the Praxair Services company, an industrial gas supply and technology company.

Further south on La. 44 and across the street from the site Crawford Electric was looking at is a large piece of property zoned C-2.

“The proposal to bring Crawford here seemed like a no-brainer,” the chamber’s Pryor said Thursday. “The general consensus I’ve heard from people in the community is that it’s just mind-boggling” that the rezoning request was defeated, he said.

When the initial rezoning request was made, Boyce had told the City Council that Crawford Electric, if built, expected to create 50 jobs and have sales of $50 million by 2015.

That’s sales tax revenue the city won’t be getting now, Pryor said.

“We don’t hold any elected offices, but we do carry a voice, the voice of the business community,” said Pryor of the Chamber’s more than 500 businesses.

The loss of the Crawford project, which the Chamber and other city, parish and state leaders publicly supported, is “not going to diminish our tenacity in the future” to speak out for worthwhile business developments, Pryor said.

Mayor Arceneaux and council members Matassa, Irvin, Vessel and Lacombe were returning to Gonzales on Wednesday evening from Washington, D.C., where they had attended the National League of Cities conference. Council member Boudreaux didn’t go to the convention.