Madisonville has begun the process of putting together its first master plan to guide future development, Mayor Jean Pelloat announced at the Town Council’s recent meeting.

The Baton Rouge-based Center for Planning Excellence is guiding the work under a $60,000 contract awarded in May. The process includes a needs assessment, citizen participation, a community design charrette and draft plan, production of a downtown master plan document, public review at a final open house and presentation of a final plan for adoption by the Town Council.

The first steps in the needs assessment, a series of 14 interviews with dozens of stakeholders, were completed July 12 and 13.

An advisory committee consisting of 20 people from a cross-section of the community has also been appointed. The committee will meet regularly with the consultants, review draft documents and offer input and feedback and act as a liaison with stakeholder groups.

Also at the meeting, the council introduced an ordinance that extensively amends the town’s traffic and criminal regulations.

Town Attorney Bruce Danner led the council through the amendment’s provisions, including speed limits, traffic signals, one-way streets, stop sign locations, truck-prohibited streets, specific fines for traffic violations and criminal acts and fines.

The traffic fines are being significantly increased at the recommendation of Police Chief Barney Tyrney as a way to help curb speeding and other traffic violations.

After taking office in March, Tyrney surveyed other parish municipalities and discovered that Madisonville had some of the lowest traffic fines in St. Tammany. Tyrney said the new fines will still be lower than those of some other municipalities but should be sufficient to help deter  violations.

A public hearing and vote on the ordinance will be held at the council’s Aug. 8 meeting.

Councilmen also heard a pitch by local developer John Cerniglia to turn the empty Friends Coastal Restaurant building into luxury condominiums.

Cerniglia outlined a concept that would involve gutting the existing building, reconstructing the interior into eight luxury residential units, with a waterfront pool area, and constructing an adjoining building that would contain 12 to 14 smaller condos, at a total cost of roughly $10 million.

Council members expressed concern over Cerniglia's plan for the additional building to be 50 feet high. Cerniglia noted that even at that height, the building would be lower than the existing structure. But council members pointed out that the town had recently adopted a strict 40-foot height limit on new buildings, subject to change based solely on the location’s base floodplain elevation.

Pelloat closed out the discussion by advising Cerniglia to come back with more specifics on the project so it could be more thoroughly evaluated.

The council also reviewed plans by Mandeville retail entrepreneur Erin Schaumburg to purchase the lot at 405 Covington St. to build a new clothing and home furnishings store, and a proposal by Kathleen Loup to purchase the landmark Dendinger House and turn it into a bed and breakfast operation.

Councilmen gave their blessing to both projects after noting that they complied with current zoning and required no waivers.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.