LETTER: Reader says parish bailed out developer

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Governments from Washington to our very own “White House” on Railroad Avenue in Gonzales have been known for compromise, but not for common sense.  While we are focused on the theatrics in Washington related to the “stimulus” plan, wondering just what will be stimulated and how trillions of dollars will shape or unravel our nation, some local officials are trying to stimulate our local economy by bringing businesses licensed to sell alcohol closer to public schools, libraries, playgrounds and churches.  

Officials crafting the compromise to reduce the maximum distance businesses selling alcohol can be located from churches, public schools, libraries and playgrounds from 500 feet to 300 feet called it “common sense.”  Fifteen years ago Ascension leaders saw the wisdom and common sense of setting the maximum standard allowed under state law at 500 feet. Six elected officials did not share that same common sense when they recently voted to lower the standard parish wide: Councilmen Randy Clouatre, Dennis Cullen, Benny Johnson, Dempsey Lambert, Chris Loar, and Kent Schexnaydre.  Chairman Bell’s silence expressed support.

This change was proposed to bail out a Baton Rouge developer who failed to research Ascension Parish code prior to building a two-story strip mall on Hwy. 42 adjacent to the Galvez Library. No business at that location could get a license to sell alcohol because the mall at its farthest premise was less than 500 feet from the library.

The actual ordinance introduced, given public notice and read prior to the public hearing was never voted on.  An amendment was offered after discussion, a new ordinance read and passed.

Public comment was overwhelmingly unfavorable to changes except for a Baton Rouge real estate agent responsible for renting space for the strip mall developer and an acquaintance of Chairman Bell.  Council members did confess that they had received numerous calls and emails in opposition to lowering the standard.  Only one was moved to change his vote.  Councilman Oliver Joseph joined Todd Lambert and George Valentine in opposition.

This Ascension Parish Stimulus Plan may bail out developers, but it is questionable whether it will stimulate the economy or benefit the average citizen. Officials at all levels tend to forget they are elected to protect the interests of the people. Getting caught up in power and politics, their ears have become deaf to the cries of their constituents. They think they know what is best for us. Just as in Washington, the developers get the bailouts and we end up paying for it.

Kathryn Goppelt