F-Bombs fly at parish council meeting

Halen Doughty
Photo of area voted by Ascension Parish Council 6-4 to change from Conservation to Light Industrial.

The final Ascension Parish Council meeting of the year was one for the record books. A few choice words rang out in the meeting room as the council voted to rezone an area near Highway 30 in Gonzales.

Residents of Robert Wilson Road made their case before the parish council in a heated debate. The council held a public hearing on a proposal to rezone the residential area from “Conservation” to “Light Industrial.” The zoning change affects the kind of development that can occur on the property adjacent to the subdivision.

Thursday night’s meeting was the final of many appearances the residents have made before the council, as the rezoning discussions have been ongoing for months. The homeowners have stated repeatedly their frustrations with local developers, who they say have changed the development plan multiple times throughout their discussions. Alex Butt said one of their biggest problems is they have been told different things as to what the land would be used for, from trailer parks to industrial business.

Resident Kelly Anderson said the neighbors are not against all development, just development that could impact the homeowners' property value. She went on to say that further development in the area could expose the subdivision to flood risk. She noted there are vacant industrial lots one mile up the road from the neighborhood, and residents can't see the need for more industry in the area.

Danita Olvera expressed her frustrations with developer Grady Melancon, who she said has been dishonest with residents about his intentions for the land. She stated that Melancon informed residents the land would be used for homes, but that is not the case.

"If you want me to trust you, you need to trust us," said Olvera. "I don't need someone to stab me in the back."

But Melancon said he has worked with the residents throughout the process. He agreed to a one mile buffer zone that would separate the subdivision from the industrial developments. He noted he is also the largest landowner on the road. The developer has build 22 subdivisions in the parish and cited a massive tax bill for the construction.

One resident was outraged at the comment saying, "So we're not good enough because our taxes aren't as high as yours?" Another shouted "F- you!" as Melancon defended himself against the claims.

District 4 Councilman Daniel Satterlee sided with the homeowners on this case. He said it looks like developers are trying to put a bunch of commercial things in a flood plain, which doesn't seem like smart growth. He said the council should preserve the rural character of the parish and discourage development where the infrastructure is inadequate.

We all know that rezoning totally changes how the land can be used,” said Satterlee.

District 3 Councilman Travis Turner added that he would not support the change because it's clear that the residents do not want it. Turner noted the developers purchased the land knowing it was zoned for conservation, not industrial expansion. He asked why they would not simply purchase land that was already zoned for industry and added the property still has developmental value if it remained conservation.

Despite the outcry from residents, the motion passed on a 6-4 vote. Once all the votes were in, citizens stormed out of the meeting room, some yelling profanity at the developers in the hallway outside. Security was called to maintain order at the court house, but the situation did not escalate further than a few angry exchanges.

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