Future of St. James being mapped

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 23, 2011



CONVENT – The first draft of a 20-year comprehensive plan for future growth within St. James Parish was recently unveiled to parish leaders and is available now for public review.

The 90-page booklet, composed by a 19-person steering committee of parish residents led by the South Central Planning and Development Commission, is currently available for review at any branch of the St. James Library system.

The parish will also hold a pair of public hearings on the land use plan so residents on both sides of the river can voice opinions and offer tweaks. The first hearing is scheduled for April 11 at the Lutcher Senior Citizens’ Center, 2631 Louisiana Ave. The second will be held April 18 at the West Bank Reception Hall, 2455 Louisiana 18 in Vacherie. Both meetings begin at 6 p.m.

According to the vision statement, the plan is designed to direct future growth and sustain citizens’ values. The plan zeros in on seven focus areas, which include public infrastructure; facilities and transportation; housing; human services; community assets; land use; and economic development.

“The plan makes essential strategy choices and provides a flexible framework for adapting to real conditions over time,” said parish spokesperson Melissa Wilkins. “It will offer guidance for the future of the seven focus areas included.”

The steering committee members analyzed strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats related to the seven focus areas and eventually developed specific future goals and recommendations for each area.

A key focus of the plan is a broader emphasis on education for future residents of the region that will strengthen the economic development of the rural and industrial community within the parish.

The committee’s recommendations include adopting a dual degree option that would encourage industrial arts education in addition to the current college bound curriculum. According to the draft, the current graduation rate is roughly 74 percent, leaving about 26 percent without a diploma and most likely unemployed.

“We want graduating students to have options when they leave school and move on to the next level of education, wherever that may be,” said Simonne Caesar, a representative for South Central Planning who aided the steering committee in the drafting process. “Industry dominates this region, and there will be jobs available for the right person with the right training.”

Other recommendations for education include finding corporate sponsors to partner with the school system to enhance school campuses, industrial arts and specialized academic programs and transportation to school facilities.

Another critical topic included in the plan was land use, particularly the possibility of zoning within unincorporated areas of the parish.

“The Steering Committee expressed concerns that residents in the parish were afraid of zoning and confused about its impacts,” said Caesar. “But there was a consensus among committee members that it was important to reduce or eliminate the land use conflicts that exist or those that will certainly develop as more industry moves in near residential areas.”

Focus group participants discussed their desire to preserve rural character of the parish by preserving agricultural land and historic sites. The committee encouraged the use of buffer zones between industry and residential areas in addition to specific designations for lower and higher density industrial areas.

The committee also recommended promoting industrial expansion and location of new industry in specific areas of parish. One strategy included directing industry locations and expansion to selected areas on both sides of the river above the Convent/Manresa areas toward Ascension Parish. The strategy would require production of a future land use map showing preferred general area for industrial development.

The committee also recommended adopting a zoning ordinance for the parish with appropriate use districts, as well as utilizing overlay districts within the zoning ordinance to more effectively regulate industrial uses.

Following the public hearings, the steering committee will present their recommendations to the St. James Planning Commission at their June meeting. At that point, the plan will move on to the parish council for adoption.