Options limited for new animal shelter; relax search criteria or vote out seven council members

Included in the Market Value Appraisal

On Tuesday 60 citizens joined six Parish Council members to discuss a proposed site for Ascension’s new Animal Shelter, 12472 N Burnside Ave.  Just north of Gonzales’ city limits, Animal Services Board (the Board) recommended a purchase agreement for 6.24 acres to house the shelter, forwarding an item to the Council and its Finance Committee last month.  Removed from the Finance agenda (February 7), the Council declined to consider the recommendation on February 16, directing the Board to “propose a different location altogether.”

That was accomplished by a 7-4 governing authority vote, effectively killing the site’s consideration (at least until a new Parish Council is sworn in on January 2, 2024).  None of which prevented Tuesday’s disjointed, less than fruitful discussion featuring Shelter Planners of America, the Board’s consultant which participated via Zoom.

Among the many challenges to building a modern day animal shelter is identifying properly zoned acreage to house such a facility.  The highest hurdle has already been cleared in Ascension, funding secured in the form of a one-mill property tax.  Finding the right location is going to be the major obstacle going forward unless the stated criteria is relaxed.

The criteria includes:

  • Parcel must be five acres, or more
  • Situated outside of a flood zone
  • Properly zoned to accommodate a shelter
  • Priced around $500,000 (with the understanding that the parish may not pay more than 10% over the property’s appraised value).

Current Zoning Map

Ascension’s Zoning Table, which makes little sense to this layman, severely restricts the number of parcels eligible for an Animal Shelter (a term omitted from the Table as it happens).  Three types of land use could, arguably, apply to a shelter.

  • Commercial type animal facility-allowed in R (Rural), C (Conservation), and MI (Medium Industry) zoning categories
  • Kennels-allowed in MU (Mixed Use), RM (Medium intensity residential), and R (Rural) zoning categories
  • Animal hospital and veterinarian offices, provided animals are kept insideMU (Mixed Use), MU2 (Mixed Use 2), and CC (Crossroads Commercial) zoning categories

Considering the limited discussions up until now, it seems the third in that series is applicable to animal shelters, problematic given the dearth of properties appropriately zoned.  Virtually all of it seems to run alongside the parish’s major roadways.  According to one member of Animal Services Board the properties that satisfy every criteria have all been considered.

Such locations are in keeping with another of Shelter Planners’ recommendations, higher visibility and well-trafficked areas to maximize pet adoption.  Councilman John Cagnolatti has adopted the opposite view; that it is preferable to construct the new shelter in a rural setting (one that does not abut Linenwood Subdivision at the very least-see below).

Cagnolatti motion kills Animal Shelter deal with six colleagues in support

NIMBY: “Not In My Backyard,” describes the phenomenon in which residents of a neighborhood designate a new development (e.g. shelter, affordable housing, group home) or change in occupancy of an existing development as inappropriate or unwanted for their local area.

If neighboring residents are given a de facto veto on top of the stated criteria, this is an exercise in futility.  Shelter Planners’ attempts to assuage those localized concerns did not take on Tuesday.

Animal shelters are designed with animal well-being in mind, and a welcoming atmosphere conducive to promoting pet adoption according to the consultant who likened “modern-day shelters (to a combination of a) retail store and hospital.”  Polite and patient, attendees did not come to hear Shelter Planners’ dissertation on modern day shelters, but to take sides on the only parcel of property recommended by the Board, and effectively rejected by the Council that appointed its members.

For certain council members, there is no good that can come from further discussion of the Burnside Ave parcel, particularly with Election Day looming in seven months.  A concerted effort by pro-animal voters can decide any close council election.  In the District 10 representative’s case, backing down would be political suicide.

Councilman John Cagnolatti reading yet to be approved draft minutes of the Council’s February 16 meeting.

That is why Councilman Cagnolatti made the February 16 motion:  Refer this back to the Animal Services Board and ask them to propose a different location altogether.  On Tuesday he brought unapproved minutes of that meeting in the apparent attempt to avert further discussion.

Does the February 16 vote, given the motion’s language, preclude further consideration of the Burnside Ave acreage proposed by the Board?  There is, according to Ruth Phillips, an advisory opinion from the Parish Attorney answering that question in the negative.  Phillips, Chief of Staff for President Clint Cointment, has assisted the Animal Services Board’s quest for a shelter site.

Ignoring Cagnolatti’s protestations, and oblivious to the Council’s February 16 vote, impassioned citizens argued for the Burnside parcel’s usage against neighboring residents in opposition.  Among those opponents, Gonzales Chief of Police Sherman Jackson…

(File photo) Gonzales Police Chief Sherman Jackson with his political patron, James Moore. Incidentally, sources indicate Moore’s Gonzales PD honorary commission was taken away after a second Domestic Abuse arrest (same goes for his APSO commission, but we digress)

who posed a series of questions to Shelter Planners.  Arguing against building the shelter so close to his house in Linenwood Subdivision, Chief Jackson inquired about the number of animals to be sheltered, storage of cat/dog food intended to feed the sheltered animals, ultimately expressing concerns that it would attract rodents.  Would there be a plan to prevent rodent infestation?

“Working cats are probably the most successful solution in any rodent event,” responded Shelter Planners, assuring that measures to mitigate noxious odors, noise and other concerns about shelter operation have been factored into plans.

So much for that interrogation.  Jackson’s concerns, we suspect, would be shared by any residents neighboring the animal shelter, no matter where it is eventually located.

If not the recommended parcel, then what?

“We have looked at sites for three years,” said Chief of Staff Phillips two weeks ago.  “Every single one of them has failed for various reasons (price being foremost).”

The statement was affirmed by another Animal Services Board member whose palpable frustration bodes ill going forward.  Unless the site selection criteria is relaxed, eligible acreage has been exhausted.  Or seven incumbent council members can be voted out and the issue can be revisited in 2024.