St. James council adopts land use plan to guide growth

The St. James Parish Council adopted a land use plan ordinance Wednesday to regulate future growth and development in the parish.

The land use plan, to be used in conjunction with the parish’s comprehensive master plan, divides the parish into land use categories.

The categories include residential/future industrial, residential growth, commercial, commercial/residential mixed, industrial, agriculture, recreation, schools, fire department, water and wetlands.

The land use plan, which the council voted unanimously to approve, got mixed reviews in a public hearing held before the council’s vote Wednesday.

Former Parish Councilman L.J. St. Pierre, Jr. supported the land use plan and asked council members to “bite the bullet” and do something they could be proud of.

“It may not be perfect, but at least it’s a start in the right direction,” St. Pierre said.

The plan would create more buffer zones between residential neighborhoods and industrial areas and improve the quality of life, said Paulina resident David Lambert.

He is fighting Wolverine Terminals’ attempts to construct a $30 million crude oil terminal and blending operation near his home.

Debra Laiche, who also opposes Wolverine Terminals moving near her property, asked the Parish Council to back the land use plan.

“We need it,” Laiche said. “We need it to have some power over where things belong.”

Other residents opposed the plan’s strict guidelines and restrictions.

Pointe Coupee Parish resident Michael Wood, who was born and raised in Welcome and still owns property there, said the land use plan is an intrusion of local landowners’ privacy and would reduce land values.

“The best land use will rise to the top if decisions are left to private enterprise than government regulation,” Wood said.

Keith Matherne, a local farmer and landowner, said he sympathized with residents living near industry but felt it wasn’t right for the Parish Council to say “what I can do with my own personal property.”

Fourth-generation sugar-cane farmer Brandon Gravois asked the Parish Council to find the right balance in the plan that benefits both residents and land owners.

“Our family makes a living with a lot of acres,” Gravois said. “Our voices seem to be smaller than the higher population areas.”

Paulina resident Pete Dufresne asked the Parish Council to wait 90 days to vote on the land use plan to allow business leaders more time to learn about the plan and voice their opinions.

Councilman Jason Amato said the parish needed to move forward with the land use plan and said changes could be made to the plan later.

Although Councilman Jimmy Brazan voted against introducing the land use plan at a council meeting in March, he promised Wednesday to work with parish residents, farmers and industry workers who sought to amend or discuss the land use plan.

“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Brazan said.

Brazan, Amato and parish council members Alvin St. Pierre, Terry McCreary, Ralph Patin, Charles Ketchens, Ken Brass voted to adopt the land use plan.

The proposed master plan seeks to direct the parish’s growth in the next two decades by encouraging economic development and improving infrastructure, reducing land use conflicts between residents and industry, promoting affordable housing and preserving historic sites, officials have said.