ST. GABRIEL — A rezoning issue that’s sparked an outcry from residents who fear the request is a prelude to a large industrial facility setting up shop close to their homes heads to City Hall this week for two public meetings where it will likely be heavily debated.
The city’s Planning and Zoning Committee will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday to hear arguments from a family hoping to rezone 3,000 acres of undeveloped land between Nicholson Drive and River Road from residential to heavy industrial.
Should the planning committee vote up or down on the request, the City Council at 6 p.m. Thursday will also hold a public hearing and potentially make the deciding vote on the measure.
However, Councilman and Mayor Pro-Tem Melvin Hasten said Tuesday it’s highly unlikely the council will make its final decision on the zoning request Thursday, given the controversy.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet and I told some of the other councilmen I don’t see how they can be ready to vote when we don’t have all the information yet,” Hasten said. “Why would these people want to rezone it heavy commercial if they don’t have anybody that wants to buy it?”
Brian Bordelon, the representative for the family making the zoning request, said last week the landowners were not entertaining any offers and just want the property rezoned so they can get a profitable return on their investment.
Many of the residents living near, and some from as far as a mile from the site, had trouble believing that, especially after they saw media reports claiming the property was on the Louisiana Economic Development’s list of certified development-ready industrial sites.
“The St. Gabriel site is not an LED Certified Site and is not under consideration for that designation at this time,” LED Secretary Steven Grissom said in an email Tuesday. “While we provide site assistance in many cases, LED does not get involved in zoning matters that are the purview of local governments.”
Bordelon said previously the Mayeaux family purchased the property in 1998 from an industrial corporation he was certain didn’t want the property zoned for residential use.
Mayor Lionel Johnson said Tuesday the property was tagged residential when it was annexed by the city in 2007.
“Any property annexed by the city is automatically zoned residential and the property owner has to request the rezoning,” Johnson said.
He also noted that a sliver of property adjacent to the site, and nestled between the residential developments along La. 30, is already zoned light industrial.
Wayne Stubbs, who lives next to the Mayeaux property, says he’s afraid the potential revenue a new multi-million dollar chemical plant could pump into city coffers would outweigh any objections from the community.
And given the fact the city’s five councilmen all live across town, mostly in the same neighborhood, Stubbs said, he believes the council could approve the zoning request without the fear of backlash in the city’s next election.
St. Gabriel seats its City Council through at-large elections instead races based on single-member districts.
“Everybody votes for us so we can face backlash depending on what we decide,” Hasten said. “I’m getting pressure on both sides about this. So, I really need to poll my constituents to see what they want.”
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