What was intended to be a community forum similar to East Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Trae Welch’s monthly meetings in Baker, Chaneyville or Zachary turned into a more intimate, roundtable discussion among about 20 residents from the Zachary community and City Councilmen Brandon Noel, of District 2, and Ben Cavin, of District 4.
Residents from all districts were invited to the March 16 discussion at the Zachary Library to share their opinions and ideas with the city leaders.
Though Cavin and Noel share similar views, the two said they do not speak for the city or the other council members.
With no agenda, the forum provided an opportunity for residents to ask questions and get answers, the councilmen said.
“There is no better way to see what’s going on in the community, no better way to dispel bad information or end miscommunication than to engage residents in a small setting like this,” Noel said. “This discussion allowed us to explain how we arrive at our decisions.”
Both council members said they wanted input from residents about shaping the city’s growth.
“We know there are issues with the city’s master plan, but right now it’s the best tool we have to help guide us in our decision-making. This forum also provides us a chance to listen, not dictate,” Cavin said.
Several topics were discussed, such as the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, which dominated the meeting.
The property on Church Street where the market wanted to build is zoned residential estates — the market chain asked that the property be rezoned to commercial general. Future intended use land maps list the property as commercial suburban. Noel said a commercial general zoning opens up the area to larger-sized businesses such as big box stores, but a commercial suburban zoning would severely limit what could be built there.
“There are a number of issues that can arise with a CG zoning, including safety and traffic concerns,” Noel said.
“What we envision for this area is what the land maps list it as, commercial suburban,” Noel said.
Another concern of both residents and councilmen was the neighborhood in close proximity to where the 32,000-plus square-foot market intended to build and operate 24 hours.
Residents said their quality of life would be diminished living next to a 24-hour big box store.
On March 2, about 200 residents attended one of the longest-running Planning and Zoning meetings to date — 5 1/2 hours — causing Wal-Mart to withdraw its site plan application at the last hour after many residents in attendance spoke in opposition to the market.
“One of the biggest misconceptions of people is that the council approaches businesses about coming to Zachary, but that’s not so; they approach us, not directly of course, but they go through our economic development leader, Kate MacArthur,” Cavin said. “Then we rule on site plans and other issues once they go through planning and zoning.”
Cavin said he and Noel don’t play favorites when it comes to which businesses want to come to Zachary, but they realize that if the city doesn’t grow economically, it will suffer.
Opinions and questions voiced at the meeting by residents included:
A need for a movie theater
Concerns over development on Church Street. Residents said they understand and accept light commercialization along Church Street, but they want the council to promote commercial suburban-zoned properties and be cautious and smart about where commercial general properties are located.
Agreement that the city’s tax base should be increased but asked leaders to be smart about its economic growth.
A desire for city leaders to “think quaint” when it comes to Zachary
More walkability. Residents said they would like the council to urge businesses to add sidewalks when they build.
Location of large stores. Residents questioned why big-box stores can’t be located on property past the Zachary Youth Park or where the new Zachary bypass (Montegudo Boulevard and Bob Odom Drive) is.
Communication with council members. Residents expressed a desire to contact their council members directly and wanted to know the best way to obtain contact information.
This is the first step, having discussions like this one, and they plan to hold more of these in the future, the councilmen said.
According to state law, Cavin and Noel were not in violation of the community gathering because there was not a quorum of members present.
To contact Zachary City Council members, visit www.cityofzachary.org and select “City Council” under the Departments heading.