Gonzales master plan to address revitalized downtown, train depot, housing _lowres

Advocate file photo by ELLYN COUVILLION -- Community-wide workshops, like this one held in October 2014, are part of what went into the new master plan in development for Gonzales.

The draft of a new master plan for Gonzales calls for turning the oldest section of the city into a renewed downtown, capitalizing on a commuter train line that may one day go through the city and more diversity in housing options, including town homes and courtyard homes.

“It’s really going to bring us into the future,” Terry Richey, a Gonzales Planning and Zoning Commission member, said of the plan that’s been in development over the past year.

An open house for public comment on the draft will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Gonzales Civic Center on Irma Boulevard.

“This plan has been done with lots of public input. It reflects what we think the city of Gonzales would like to see,” said Lauren Marschall, a project manager with the Center for Planning Excellence, the Baton Rouge nonprofit creating the plan.

“We want to make sure we got it right, that we heard correctly,” Marschall said of the upcoming public meeting.

“I’m very pleased with what CPEX is doing right now,” Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux said. “I think things are looking very good. We’ll tweak some things and take it from there.”

After any changes that might result from the meeting are incorporated into the plan, the more than 140-page document will go to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission for discussion and to the City Council, to be either accepted or rejected.

If adopted, the master plan, posted through the city of Gonzales Facebook page (scroll down to the mayor’s June 16 post), would replace the one created in 1997 that’s become badly outdated, city leaders have said.

The City Council hired CPEX in April 2014, at a cost of $162,500, to create a new land use master plan for the city.

The idea first came up in fall 2013, when a question of whether the city should allow a greater number of apartment units per acre — the idea has gained popularity with higher-quality complexes — and City Councilman Kirk Boudreau recommending the Planning and Zoning Commission look at updating the city’s old master plan.

In January 2014, with zoning issues at the heart of much of the controversy on the old City Council, before Timothy Vessel was recalled and Gary Lacombe resigned from the council, the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended that the city hire a professional to create a new master plan.

CPEX began its work that spring.

The process was guided by 19 residents invited to provide input and feedback along the way, as well as from several communitywide workshops.

It’s not a regulatory document, but the master plan “should be considered the city’s ‘blueprint’ for long-term development,” the introduction to the plan reads.

Once adopted, the plan would be used to guide decisions on city development.

Some of the big items that Gonzales residents are looking for, which are addressed in the plan, are:

Quality new development

Walkable neighborhoods and commercial centers

Clear direction on land use decisions

Improved traffic flow

A range of housing types for people of all income levels

The creation of quality jobs for people of all ages

The restoration of the downtown’s vitality.

That last item — a reborn downtown — would get a big boost if a commuter rail line between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which has been discussed for several years by Louisiana officials and the federal government, is built and Gonzales is made one of the stops.

A 2014 Baton Rouge-New Orleans Intercity Rail Feasibility Study, prepared by the HNTB Corporation, a Baton Rouge firm, identified certain criteria for locating potential stations along the train route, if it comes to pass.

“A rail station inside the Gonzales city limits, adjacent to downtown and the Airline Highway corridor, would meet these criteria,” CPEX says in its master plan.

To better position itself for that possibility, the Gonzales City Council in March voted to spend $350,000 to buy a building owned by a local Catholic Church as the site of a possible train station. The building is off Burnside Avenue, in the oldest part of Gonzales, the area the city would like to see become a new downtown center.

The draft of the master plan sets out more than 20 items for the city to undertake.

“It doesn’t say who will do it or in what order, but the city will need to sort that out,” said Frank Cagnolatti, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission. “If they ask us for help, we’ll be happy to help.”

Meanwhile, CPEX also is working on a second project for the city that goes hand in glove with a new master plan.

Earlier this year, the City Council voted to pay CPEX an additional $20,000 to begin rewriting the city’s zoning ordinances, beginning with residential and apartment zoning.

The City Council will look at additional costs of the rest of the zoning rewrite project in the future.

“Our first priority is residential and multifamily zoning. That’s where there’s the most activity,” City Clerk Clay Stafford said.

Follow Ellyn Couvillion on Twitter, @EllynCouvillion.