GONZALES — Just over a week since Crawford Electric Supply opened its new 54,000-square-foot building in unincorporated Geismar, the Gonzales City Council agreed Monday to rezone the site once proposed as the home of Crawford Electric to the broad commercial zoning category company officials had once sought.
The 28-acre tract in Gonzales along South Burnside Avenue was one of several sites caught up in a zoning tug-of-war between the administration and its council allies and the then-council majority. The Crawford Electric project was withdrawn in February 2014 facing opposition from the then-council majority. The company opened its Geismar site on May 18 of this year.
But a recall effort championed by the mayor, other council members and the Save Gonzales group led last fall to the departure of two members from that old majority, Gary Lacombe, who resigned, and Timothy Vessel, who was recalled from office. They were replaced with councilmen more aligned with the administration.
And so on Monday, the council rezoned the old Crawford site owned by the heirs of Price LeBlanc, and four other unrelated properties to more-permissive zoning categories.
Councilman Terance Irvin, the last member of the old majority, opposed rezoning the old Crawford site and three others while the rest of the five-member council supported all five rezonings Monday.
Chuck LeBlanc, a Gonzales resident who led the Save Gonzales effort, took the old majority to task once more before the zoning votes. He noted the loss of Crawford’s 24 jobs and more than $2.5 million in retail counter sales to the city.
“I think it’s a shame that this happened. We lost money off of it. It cost the city money. It cost the city in the budget and yet these three councilmen took credit for this year’s budget,” LeBlanc said.
Irvin countered that Crawford Electric had a chance to locate in properly zoned land and noted that Crawford’s competitor, Summit Electric Supply, is expanding on properly zoned land.
Irvin reiterated that the then-council majority was trying to preserve C-1 zoning, which is reserved for retail, in blocking Crawford from rezoning the site on La. 44 to C-2 commercial.
Mayor Barney Arceneaux then interjected that the old majority ran out Crawford.
Irvin disputed that.
“They didn’t want to follow the master plan that we were trying to protect because of sales tax and property tax,” he said.
More charges and countercharges followed, but the end result was that Irvin’s point of view no longer has the votes to halt the changes coming while the city is in the midst of revamping its master plan.
Steve Robert, owner of A.S. Brothers, which had a site along South Burnside near Interstate 10 switched from retail to industrial Monday, said his company and other landowners recognize that the new council majority is more open to zoning changes and are bringing requests forward.
Irvin was the sole vote against the change from C-1 to I-1 for A.S. Brothers.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.