ST. GABRIEL — For the second time this year in the Baton Rouge area, residents rose up to oppose rezoning plans because they don’t want an industrial facility or chemical plant so close to their homes.
The latest controversy involves approximately 3,000 acres of undeveloped land between Nicholson Drive and River Road in St. Gabriel. At a meeting with residents Wednesday, a representative for the landowners tried to dispel rumors the family wants the property rezoned from residential to heavy industrial because it is entertaining an offer to sell to a chemical plant.
But many of the residents living near the area, and even outside the city limits, who attended Wednesday’s meeting found that hard to believe, given the property fronts the Mississippi River.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize they’re trying to sell to a plant or some foreign company who wants to come into the state and take advantage of our cheap natural gas rates,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, now with GreenARMY, an environmental advocacy group.
“The last few parcels of land along the river have been sold to the Russians and Chinese and our state laws are so loose they can put a fracking well 500 feet near your house,” he said.
Honoré, who lives in an upscale subdivision just outside the St. Gabriel city limits but less than a mile from the site, was among the residents who attended a neighborhood meeting the landowners were required to hold with people living within 500 feet of the property in question.
Residents were able to get information about the zoning request, which will be introduced at the city’s Planning and Zoning meeting next week.
Following the planning and zoning meeting, the City Council will hold a public hearing and possibly vote on the request at its Oct. 15 meeting.
The residents are hoping their opposition will dissuade the City Council from approving the request the same way East Baton Rouge Parish residents were able to persuade the Metro Council to change the zoning to prohibit an industrial barge-cleaning facility to set up shop near residential neighborhoods and a BREC park in south Baton Rouge.
“We just haven’t even thought about what we would do if there was a chemical plant next door,” said Mary Sandoval, co-owner of Roberto’s restaurant, which sits next to the Iberville Parish property along River Road. “Hopefully this will all play out good and it’ll be an opportunity for residents to have power in whether this moves forward or not.”
Brian Bordelon, the representative for the landowners, said the Mayeaux family purchased the property in 1998 from an industrial corporation.
“I feel certain the (corporation) did not want that property to be zoned residential,” Bordelon said. “And there was never a request from the Mayeaux family to have the property zoned residential.”
When Bordelon was asked if the family needed the property rezoned because there was already interest in it from the industrial sector, he denied the family, which lives within the site, was entertaining any offers. They want the property rezoned so they can get profitable return on their investment, he said.
“Obviously there is lots of activity along the Gulf Coast in industrial,” Bordelon said. “They’re looking at what would be the most profitable and best use of the property at this time.”
Bordelon was quick to mention that rezoning the property would not give a company the green light to build an industrial facility or chemical plant right away. There would still be public hearings before a potential buyer could get state approval to use the land for an industrial purpose.
“Everyone needs to know that if this is approved, the city will be removed from the process going forward,” resident Tyrone Williams said. “We have high cancer rates here already. I’m encouraging everyone to participate in the process if they oppose this, too.”
Williams, who lives outside the city limits in the Pecan Acres subdivision, said his neighbors share his concerns another chemical plant in St. Gabriel would diminish the quality of life, introduce more pollution into the area and exacerbate traffic problems.
Bridget Wilson, one of the 50 residents living within 500 feet of the proposed area, said they are already surrounded by enough chemical plants and fear city officials are on board with the family’s intentions, given the positive economic impact industry can have on city coffers.
“What they’re trying to do will be at what cost to their constituents?” she asked. “This will push constituents out. And for people like me, living here is all I know.”
Editor’s note: This article was changed after publication to correct previous action before the East Baton Rouge Metro Council on the zoning for land that could have been used for a barge cleaning facility.
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