Gonzales mayor, city council sued over zoning request

Minutes after the Gonzales City Council meeting ended Monday night, a sheriff’s deputy served the mayor and members of the council with a lawsuit over a zoning request the council refused to approve earlier in the meeting.

State District Judge Alvin Turner Jr., of the 23rd Judicial District, had the lawsuit in hand in the event that the council denied his request for rezoning — which it did in a 3-2 vote earlier in the meeting.

The lawsuit requests a judge issue an injunction ordering the mayor and City Council to approve his zoning request.

In July, the Gonzales Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the council approve Turner’s request to rezone undeveloped property he owns between West Worthey Road and South Darla Avenue. Turner had requested that the zoning be changed so that it is in line with other adjacent subdivision zoning, which requires smaller 6,000-square-foot lots. His current zoning requires 8,000-square-foot lots.

However, Councilman Gary Lacombe moved that the issue be sent back to the Zoning Commission to be looked at along with other nearby, undeveloped property.

At the Aug. 4 meeting of the commission, Turner again asked for the rezoning as did a neighboring land owner, Al Husser.

Turner told commissioners that Lacombe had told him that the rezoning should extend to a ditch on adjacent property owned by Husser.

Again, the Zoning Commission recommended the rezoning be granted for Turner and also recommended that Husser’s request be approved as well.

On Monday, however, Lacombe and Councilmen Terance Irvin and Timothy Vessel outvoted councilmen Kenny Matassa and Kirk Boudreaux to deny Turner’s request but not before a tense exchange of words between Turner and the three councilmen, who vote as a bloc.

“My main concern is we have to be very serious about where we go in the future” with regard to zoning, Irvin said.

Turner said Lacombe and Irvin had told him his zoning request would be approved if he included Husser’s zoning request in his request.

“I have one question for you Mr. Lacombe and Mr. Irvin. Are you denying that the condition of the (rezoning) request was including Mr. Husser’s lots in my request?” Turner asked.

Irvin said that “with all due respect,” he preferred not to “be cross-examined.”

The petition for injunction by Turner and his wife, Cherlynn Turner, which was served after Monday’s council meeting, asks the court to issue a mandatory injunction ordering the mayor and City Council to approve Turner’s zoning request.

The petition also says Turner found out that Irvin has indicated he would vote against Turner’s request because Turner is involved in a recall effort of Lacombe and Vessel.

“This action on the part of Councilman Irvin, if proven, may warrant the investigation by the district attorney and/or other agencies for possible criminal infractions,” the petition says.

The petition requests that Turner’s fellow judges recuse themselves from a hearing on the matter and asks that the state Supreme Court appoint an ad hoc judge to hear the matter within two to 10 days.

The rezoning request was just one of the contentious issues at Monday’s meeting.

A relative of Vessel’s questioned City Attorney Ryland Percy’s donation to a nonprofit organization seeking to recall Councilmen Vessel and Lacombe.

Evelyn Vessel, Timothy Vessel’s aunt, asked whether the donation was ethical.

Timothy Vessel told Percy that he should get an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office.

“What I do as a private citizen is my own business. I do not represent you as an individual,” Percy told Vessel.

He said Vessel could himself seek an opinion from the attorney general about the matter.

On another issue, Lacombe, Vessel and Irvin voted against Mayor Barney Arceneaux’s reappointment to the Planning Commission of Chairman Frank Cagnolatti and Commissioner Eddie Williams, who have served beyond their initial five-year terms.

Boudreaux and Matassa voted for the reappointments.

The men will continue to serve on the commission until the council approves other nominees made by the mayor, Percy said.

In other business, no motion was made at the meeting to vote to override the mayor’s second veto of the city’s amended capital outlay and general fund budgets. The mayor most recently vetoed the budgets last week.

It would take four votes on the five-member council to override the veto.

Arceneaux will present his version of the budgets at the council’s next meeting on Aug. 25.