Alcohol ordinance change possible

Wade McIntyre

DONALDSONVILLE – Booze was the news at the Ascension Parish Council meeting Thursday.

In a move that veers from long-standing policy, the council introduced an ordinance to allow alcoholic beverages to be sold in restaurants within three hundred feet of a public library.

Currently,  liquor must be sold 500 feet away, whether in a bar or eatery.

Councilmen George Valentine and Todd Lambert opposed the ordinance introduction, which passed by a 9 to 2 margin.

Councilmen supporting a change to the current 15-year-old ordinance that holds liquor sales 500 feet at bay from churches, synagogues, libraries, schools and day care centers took heavy fire from community activist Kathryn Goppelt.

Goppelt accused them of tinkering with rules for the benefit of the developer of a strip mall where what she called a daiquiri shop would be located.

Goppelt said the developer “gets a ten for determination” to have the ordinance changed, but councilmen supporting the change get a “zero.”

Councilman Chris Loar, in whose district the library on Hwy. 42 is located, stressed that the liquor establishment is a restaurant rather than a daiquiri business.

Loar said he wanted to see the parish grow, and characterized the restaurant as positive growth.

The ordinance follows state law that allows restaurants within 300 feet of a library, he said.

Councilman Kent Schexnaydre introduced the ordinance. He said the strip mall owner originally requested the change for a daiquiri shop, but was declined.

The ordinance change allowing a restaurant to sell liquor within 300 feet of the library would be “a bridge” between Ascension’s 500-foot restriction and the state’s 300-foot barrier, according to Schexnaydre.

“I thought it was a common sense thing,” he said.

However,  Councilman George Valentine slammed the introduction of the proposed ordinance.

“I am vehemently opposed to this,” he said. He called the ordinance a backward step for the parish for the benefit of one person, the strip mall owner.

“This was essentially done for an economic situation, and I don’t change rules for economic situations, especially when it is for alcohol on La. (Hwy.) 42,” Valentine said. “I have a problem with that.”

Lambert agreed, saying during his three terms in office no problems ever came up with the existing ordinance.

In an unrelated matter, Ascension Parish Chief Criminal Deputy Tony Bacala came before the council requesting funds for equipment for the new parish jail scheduled to open March 1.

Bacala said money was needed for utensils in the new kitchen, mattresses, storage lockers and other items.

The sheriff’s office plans to bring female inmates who were incarcerated outside the parish back to Ascension where they will be housed in a 32 bunk area of the old jail that formerly housed male inmates. Bacala said money is needed to fix eight showers in that area.

The money has already been authorized by the bonds that were passed to build the jail, Bacala said, and the sheriff’s office was just asking for authorization to spend the money.

The March 1 date has been a target opening date for six to eight months, the chief deputy said. In order to have the facility staffed, employees have already been hired, and salaries are being paid.

Bacala requested that decision making authority be granted Parish President Tommy Martinez, in order to eliminate meetings when financial needs have to be met between now and the jail’s opening date.

“The good news is we’re not trying to spend money we haven’t planned to spend from the very beginning,” Bacala said. “We just need the authority to spend the money that has already been authorized for the project via the bonds.”

The council unanimously approved all the requested nine change orders pertaining to the jail, and in a separate motion authorized Martinez to negotiate and approve change orders pertaining to the jail without coming before the council.

Martinez told the council the jail project is expected to come under budget by about $900,000. 

The unused money would probably be put toward the bond indebtedness and debt service for the project, he said.

In other business, the council:

• Approved a parishwide ordinance that will prohibit roadside solicitation.

• Accepted a letter of substantial completion for the jail.

• Adopted a cooperative endeavor agreement with Carlisle Resort LLC in which the parish pays the energy costs of seven lights located near the Cabela’s retail outlet in Gonzales.