Another day, another standing room only crowd at Gonzales’ Courthouse Council meeting room to urge execution of a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement between Ascension Parish and Gonzales Soccer Club to operate seven “Multi-Use” fields newly-constructed at Lamar Dixon Expo Center. Thursday’s Council meeting followed up the Recreation Committee which recommended the contract without objection, though two committee members voiced lingering concerns over a one-sided agreement which cedes near total control to the Club. A single councilman objected to spending $450,000 to fund an “update the Parish Master Land Use Plan and the Zoning Ordinance.”
The Council has already authorized a Transportation Master Plan ($750,000 originally with additions for engineering of road construction pushing the total over $2 million), and an undetermined amount for a Floodplain Management Plan (Drainage Director Bill Roux estimated the cost at $300,000 before issuing Request for Qualifications which resulted in two firms being selected). The Land Use Plan came up after a lengthy soccer field discussion.
It was deja vu, all over again as Gonzales Soccer pitched its plan, with Lamar Dixon’s General Manager providing an assist. Kyle Rogers touted the potential revenues generated by corporate sponsorship and President Kenny Matassa, making a second appearance in two days after a two month hiatus, backed his play. The Club’s similar agreement with the City of Gonzales included paying for improvements to the city’s facilities during Matassa’s 19-year tenure on the City Council.
But the city has other plans for those fields that used to house Gonzales Soccer and rejection of the agreement would leave the Club homeless.
Councilman Travis Turner, who chaired Wednesday’s Recreation meeting, took issue with the Club vice-president’s continual reminders that “What we do is for the kids.” Matthew Pryor, who happens to chair Ascension’s Planning and Zoning Committees, urged the Council to trust Gonzales Soccer to do right by all those other group’s who might want to use the parish-owned facility where seven taxpayer-funded fields were built. Alone in providing soccer for Ascension’s youth, it will have “exclusive use” during its season though Pryor assured the Club would accommodate other users.
“It’s disingenuous to try to use the kids as a hammer to try to beat us over the head,” Councilman Turner declared. “Nobody has ever said kids can’t use the fields.”
Turner was not alone in questioning the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement that gives Gonzales Soccer five years, with a five-year option which the parish cannot cancel unless the Club fails to “maintain the fields in premiere/pristine condition.”
For the second time since 2010 the Council is going to fund an attempt at updating Ascension’s Master Land Use Plan. Enacted in 1998, with minor revisions in 2003 and 2009, the existing plan has been wholly ignored by the Planning Commission for years and criticized for being antiquated. Planning Director Jerome Fournier, on the job for 14 months, recommended spending $450,000 after the Commission adopted a resolution to request funding on August 9.
Fournier urged “a look at certain areas of the parish” where population has clustered most densely to prioritize transportation improvement expenditures. It is the same rationale to support the Transportation Master Plan which has been delayed to undertake “Quick Start” projects, five roads will be identified for improvement by the end of 2018 according to Assistant DPW Director Mike Enlow. Nobody seems to know when efforts toward the transportation plan will be resumed.
HNTB, Inc., which is heading up the Transportation effort, was also selected for the Floodplain Management job with an assist from CSRS, Inc., which happens to be Planning’s Engineering Review Agency. Throw in the Master Land Use Plan update and the total cost will exceed $1.5 million, possibly by a lot.
Council Chairman Bill Dawson urged “coordination and interconnectivity” of the three plans as Planning Director Fournier itemized three goals for the Land Use portion. It will take 18 months to:
- Update the outdated 1998 plan;
- Clean up discrepancies between the Land Use Plan and Zoning ordinances; and
- Revise Subdivision Regulations accordingly.
“How do we build in flood prone areas?” Fournier specified a pressing concern. “Should we allocate certain areas of the parish to be much less dense because of flooding problems.”
Included in the 1998 plan are:
- Inadequate Drainage. Despite heavy investments in drainage systems, additional development creates more impermeable surfaces. With accelerating storm water runoff, drainage problems become increasingly severe.
- Residential development and imported fill in the flood plain. The pressure to build housing is pushing residential development into the flood plain…File creates more flooding problems and undercuts the effectiveness of the overall parish drainage plan…The 100-year flood plain extends to much of the parish.
- Deteriorating traffic safety and excessive traffic congestion. With few exceptions, the road structure of the parish is designed for a rural area. Increased traffic on indadequate roads increases delays and accidents. These problems are acute in several traffic corridors in the northern section of the parish.
“For decades successive Planning Commissions have refused to follow the 1998 Master Land Use Plan and the current chairman recently deemed it merely ‘a playbook,'” said Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee. “It’s a prime reason we have failed miserably in terms of lack of road, drainage, and sewer infrastructure.”
According to Satterlee the 2010 attempt cost $500,000; $350,000 to Winston & Associates, another $150,000 in administrative costs to Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX). The proposal was never implemented.