Gonzales residents get a peek at a draft of the city’s new master plan _lowres

Provided by the Center for Planning Excellence - This illustration shows what the possible first phase of a commuter rail station development, including a platform and plaza, might look like for Gonzales one day.

The new master plan in development for Gonzales not only addresses land use and street design but also offers ways to attract higher-paying jobs and more affordable housing.

At a public meeting on the master plan Wednesday night, Janet Tharp, associate planning director for Baton Rouge’s Center for Planning Excellence, which is drafting the plan, said Gonzales has particular strengths.

“We learned how much people really love to live here. It really has a culture that people want to continue in the future,” Tharp said.

The city also has some particular needs, including better traffic flow and more opportunities in jobs and housing.

“People are very stressed here to be able to rent,” Tharp said, a situation that might be exacerbated by the concentration of lower-paying jobs in the city, much of them in retail.

“Gonzales has a greater share of employment in the sector that would have an average lower wage” than the rest of Ascension Parish, Tharp said.

The more than 100-page master plan has specific items to address those and other areas for growth.

The presentation of the draft is the latest step in a yearlong process.

Nobody turned in questions during the meeting, which drew more than 30 people, including the mayor and other city officials.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Tharp said of the amount of information provided in the plan.

But, she said, the public will have more opportunities to add their input to the plan over the next two months, as it goes to the Planning and Zoning Commission, through other public hearings and to the City Council for discussion before a vote in late August.

The City Council hired CPEX in April 2014, at a cost of $162,500, to create a new master plan. The current one, created in 1997, is outdated and of little use, city officials have said.

“We’re glad to see it coming to fruition,” said Frank Cagnolatti, chairman of the Gonzales Planning and Zoning Commission. “It was sorely needed.”

The new master plan proposal looks at land use, transportation, housing and neighborhoods, the economy and downtown — which the city hopes may one day offer a train station for a potential commuter line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

In housing, for example, CPEX found that “more than one-third of all Gonzales households are cost-burdened, meaning that they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.”

The CPEX planners also said “about 70 percent of Gonzales rental households are cost-burdened.”

The plan recommends the city preserve and strengthen existing single-family areas, as well as build new housing that “will retain current and attract future residents, including young people, area workers, entrepreneurs and older people.”

To attract higher-paying jobs, the master plan recommends the city take advantage of its location near industry and the interstate to seek businesses serving the petrochemical industries, as well as work to bring in manufacturing firms, and distribution and logistics companies.

“I feel like Gonzales has to step up or be left behind,” said Gonzales resident Karen Hatcher, who heads the Gonzales Committee on Cultural Affairs and is a business owner with her family.

The Rev. Eric Gyan, who became the pastor of St. Theresa of Avila Catholic Church in Gonzales about a year ago, said, “I’ve only been here less than a year, but I expect to be here 12 years. … It’s got good people and a great culture. There are so many assets to build on.”

Follow Ellyn Couvillion on Twitter, @EllynCouvillion.