GONZALES — Gonzales officials and Emerson Process Management could strike a deal as soon as Monday to keep the Fortune 500 company in the city.
The City Council voted last week to deny a zoning change that would have allowed Emerson to locate a regional headquarters on 17.57 acres of the Edenborne development along La. 44 south of Interstate 10.
The change would have removed the property for the 342-acre “traditional neighborhood development” and zoned it as industrial property. The motion failed on a 3-2 vote.
However, city officials and leading members of the business community immediately went to work on the three councilmen — Terance Irvin, Gary Lacombe and Timothy Vessel — to urge them to reconsider their votes.
Mayor Barney Arceneaux, who was very vocal in his frustration following the council’s March 18 vote shooting down the proposed zoning change, said he held a two-hour meeting with the dissenting councilmen to talk about their concerns regarding the zoning change and to see if a compromise could be reached.
Arceneaux said the new proposal would give Emerson a C-2 commercial zoning classification instead of industrial, and it also would include a special use permit that wouldn’t be transferred to the new owner of the property if Emerson ever were to leave the area.
“I feel like we’re moving in the right direction,” Arceneaux said. “I feel like we’re about there.”
Irvin said the meeting with the mayor and the move away from the industrial zoning classification alleviated his concerns about the project.
“It creates a more accountable zoning for us,” Irvin said. “We think that’s going to be much more appropriate for the entire city of Gonzales as we move forward.”
The three council members also heard from influential members of the city’s business community, who joined in urging them to reconsider their votes.
Ascension Chamber of Commerce President Sherrie Despino and board Chairman Paul Claxton sent a letter to chamber members asking them to contact the council members about their opposition to Emerson’s move to locate in Edenborne.
Despino and Claxton said the chamber has supported the Emerson project for several reasons. Emerson is a Fortune 500 company and a chamber member that is planning to bring nearly 200 jobs — including approximately 60 new jobs — to Gonzales. Emerson also wants to partner with River Parishes Community College and the Ascension Parish School Board to provide an enhanced learning experience in technical areas.
“We are asking that you make your voice heard,” the chamber letter read. “Together there is a chance we can change this, but we need everyone. Please let these gentlemen know that the voices of a few should not govern, and that the so-called silent majority is not that silent.”
Marlin Wilson, Emerson’s general manager in Ascension Parish, said he was optimistic and hopeful for a solution, but he declined to comment any further until after Monday’s meeting.
Irvin said he would be both relieved and happy once the Emerson issues are put to bed and the company begins moving forward with construction of its planned $16 million regional headquarters.
“Now we can focus on the future,” Irvin said. “I truly believe that where there’s growth there’s gonna be pain. I think, again, we did well. We came to the table, negotiated and came up with a solution. We’re moving forward through the pain.”