GONZALES — Close to 40 residents met at the Gonzales Civic Center on Wednesday night to literally map out — with markers, scissors and glue sticks — their visions for the city’s future.
The residents gathered around large aerial maps of the city, laid out on tables outfitted with the supplies they’d need, to make specific suggestions for a new land-use master plan for Gonzales.
“We know Gonzales is growing, and we want to grow in the right way,” Mayor Barney Arceneaux said.
As part of the roughly year-long process of creating a new land-use master plan for Gonzales, the nonprofit organization the city hired in April for $162,500 to do the work held its first citywide public meeting for more input.
Representatives of CPEX, the Center for Planning Excellence of Baton Rouge, have been meeting monthly since July with a “stakeholders committee” of more than a dozen residents invited by the mayor and councilmen to take part in developing the new plan.
The current master plan was created in 1997 and is “old and antiquated,” Frank Cagnolatti, chairman of the Gonzales Planning and Zoning Committee, told the audience.
“It’s a cumbersome document that makes our work very, very difficult,” he said.
Janet Tharp, associate planning director with CPEX, quickly outlined the evening’s agenda, explaining the meanings of the different colors on the maps — residential, civic, commercial and more — and how residents could tag the maps with corresponding colors of markers for what they’d like to see where.
She also gave them a mild reality check.
“You can have a lot of dreams, but it’s our job to narrow them down to actions that can be accomplished,” Tharp said.
Before residents broke up into groups around the seven tables, Tharp gave a quick snapshot of Gonzales, using a variety of statistics.
Some of them:
- The number of homes priced between $100,000 and $200,000 greatly outnumbers those at more affordable or higher-end prices.
- Retail trade employs the largest number of people, approximately 2,600, in the city, which has a population of close to 10,000 residents.
- The biggest use of land in the city is for large-lot, single family residences.
At one table, resident Eugene Britton kicked off his group’s ideas.
“I’d like to see more diverse businesses in the city. There’s lots of lower-skilled jobs in the city,” Britton said.
For the next half hour, Britton and the others at his table came up with a list of goals they’d like to see the new master plan address, like improving the blend of businesses in the city, seeing residential developments with a range of home prices for people of different incomes and improving the city’s roads.
Their map ended up with bright pink tags around St. Elizabeth Hospital on La. 30 — indicating their wish for more doctors’ offices there — and orange and red tags in the Edenborne development area, for restaurants, small shops and mixed-use developments of housing/offices above retail shops.
At the end of the evening, it quickly became apparent that a lot of people want the same things for Gonzales.
Coming up more than once were the revitalization of downtown, more high-end housing, the expansion of the medical complex around the local hospital and higher-paying jobs.
An attractive train stop in the city, for a proposed future rail line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, was a dream offered more than once Wednesday.
Tharp said CPEX will compile the ideas from Wednesday’s meeting and then start drafting the new plan this winter, with more public meetings to come.