Gonzales council approves M.P. Evans rezoning

The City Council unanimously approved Monday rezoning the 341-acre M.P. Evans tract, a prime piece of real estate along Interstate 10 at the Burnside exit, after months of passionate debate.

The approved rezoning sets forth a mix of commercial zoning for retail and small office warehouses, and varying residential densities, including apartments.

Gary Binns, an agent trying to sell the property owned by the heirs of Merritt P. and Ruth Walker Evans Jr., said Monday after the vote that the heirs have purchase agreements for the residential and apartment portions of the tract.

He said their next step will be to find users for the rest of the property.

“I think this is going to be very good for the city. It’s very good for the estate. We’re very glad to get it behind us,” Binns said.

Binns added that he hoped the rezoning would be a catalyst for improvements along La. 44, a two-lane highway along which new retail developments are planned.

The final vote came Monday without council comment and, as is council procedure, two weeks after residents debated the rezoning one last time.

Before the city annexed the site in March 2012, the zoning was one house per acre and was raised to three houses per acre once the site was annexed inside the city limits.

The rezoning increases density further and adds commercial developments.

Proponents said the site would help the city grow and provide new property for the service companies tied to the industrial corridor.

Critics said the project was happening ahead of needed infrastructure upgrades, would change the rural character of unincorporated Ascension Parish next to the tract and put the interests of large landowners ahead of the site’s neighbors.

Bounded by I-10, La. 44 and La. 941, the site has long been a cow pasture.

“Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, these aren’t just words. A citizen’s right to enjoy the humble fruits of a lifetime of labor, to pursue happiness, which if nothing else constitutes his way of life, are not measured in acres or opportunity for financial gain,” Sharon Dunn Dymond, 66, told the council during a Sept. 9 hearing.

Two councilmen who argued in July to send the project back to the city Planning and Zoning Commission — after the commission had recommended rejection — said after the meeting Monday that the developers had made compromises.

Councilmen Terance Irvin and Gary Lacombe said adding more C-1 commercial zoning, which allows for retail businesses, was critical in their views.

“You don’t want to tie up a development. You want to move forward. You want compromise. You want to negotiate and meet people halfway, you know, so that we can continue moving the city forward,” Irvin said.

“But what’s important for the city is those cash registers.”

The commission also backed the project earlier this month.

The developers also added more residential zoning along La. 941 and set aside land for a park, for a sewer lift station and for highway expansion along La. 44, and at La. 44 and La. 941.