Gonzales panel recommends mixed-use rezoning of Evans tract

The city Planning and Zoning Commission recommended on Tuesday rezoning a 341-acre cow pasture and clearing the way for broad plans to build a mix of houses, apartments, retail buildings and office warehouses at the prime location along an interstate highway.

The 3-1 vote sets the stage for a final City Council vote at 5:30 p.m. Monday on the question of whether or not to rezone the tract owned by the M.P. Evans estate on the southeast corner of the Interstate 10/La. 44 interchange near Burnside.

The proposal has encountered opposition from neighboring residents — many living outside the city limits — over concerns about infrastructure and a change in the character of the rural area.

The council returned the proposed rezoning item to the commission in July for more work. The commission had recommended against approval then.

But commissioners favoring the project said Tuesday the representatives of the estate spent a lot of time negotiating the rezoning proposal and made concessions, giving up money in shifting portions of the tract to less dense housing and relocating a proposed apartment complex.

“They have been serious. We take this matter seriously, and we reflected on it a long, long time,” Commissioner Frank Cagnolatti said.

“We have the interests of the citizens of Gonzales, as well as the people who live in the surrounding area at heart.”

The tract is zoned R-15, the city’s most-restrictive residential zoning category that allows three houses per acre. Before the city annexed the tract last year, the parish zoning allowed only one house per acre there.

Other concessions include setting aside 2 acres along La. 44 for road widening for a 10-year period only and one-fourth of an acre at the La. 44/La. 941 intersection for improvements, said Deric Murphy, with Quality Engineering and Surveying, a firm representing the heirs.

He said the heirs also are providing a half-acre for a city sewer lift station, 5 acres for a park and will put requirements on some home construction.

The commissioners also rejected the heirs’ push to boost the density of the 20-acre apartment complex from 10 to 14 units per acre.

During a public hearing preceding the vote, some spoke in favor of the project.

“This development is very, very crucial to the city of Gonzales. This is the only piece of land really that we have to grow,” said Chuck LeBlanc, 62, of Gonzales.

But two critics of the plan argued it is too ill-defined and that the commission would be repeating the mistakes of Ascension Parish government by not considering traffic impact.

Cagnolatti announced early in the hearing that the state Department of Transportation and Development would consider traffic concerns and the developer was conducting a drainage study and asked speakers not to address the topics.

Community activist Theresa Robert said the developer should be required to set aside money for traffic improvements and called the heirs’ promise to set aside right of way along La. 44 for 10 years “a joke” because DOTD took 20 years to overlay the two-lane highway.

Robert reminded the commissioners they have the authority to rezone.

“And when you know the state has no money, no plans and you rezone it, who is responsible? It’s like that chicken and egg,” Robert said.

“Well, we are begging you. Please, be responsible government officials. Don’t let this happen to us. We’ve seen it time and time again. It doesn’t work that way.”

Murphy told Commissioner Eddie Williams later that the developer will have to conduct a traffic impact study and negotiate an agreement to mitigate overloads.

“They (DOTD officials) don’t hold their tongue. They are going to tell us what is required on their road,” Murphy said.

Indira Parrales, DOTD spokeswoman, said in an email before the hearing Tuesday that DOTD has not been contacted about rezoning the M.P. Evans property and has no current plans to widen La. 44 in that area.

Commissioners Cagnolatti, John Lanoux and Terry Richey supported the rezoning. Commissioner Williams was opposed. Commissioner Ralph Delatte Jr. was absent.