St. James land-use plan ready for OK

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 18, 2013

By David Vitrano

CONVENT – After more than three years of meetings, planning and refinement, the St. James Parish comprehensive land-use may finally be ready for adoption by the parish council.
At its last meeting, the council heard from St. James Parish Assistant Director of Operations Blaise Gravois, who has led the project since March 2010. The result of the years of work is a plan that designates much of the western side of the parish as industrial, with residential areas clustered mostly around the communities of Lutcher, Gramercy, Paulina and Vacherie. The one major exception to this is the area around St. James Catholic Church on the west bank, which is an island of residential neighborhoods among a sea of industry and is one of the oldest settled areas of the parish. Additionally, areas around major thoroughfares, such as Louisiana Highways 20, 3127 and 3125, are designated mixed commercial and residential, with large swaths designated as agricultural and wetlands filling in the rest of the map.
Gravois said following a year and a half of community meetings and taking into account current trends, a 19-person committee drew up a plan with the intent of fostering both the economy and quality of life in the parish. He said one of the main area that influenced the creation of the plan were trends in population.
“Projections show that over the next 20 years we could experience a decline,” he said.
Of course, the committee looked not only at the number of people living in the parish but also where they choose to live in the parish.
“Of the 278 permits that have been issued in the past five years, none have been in areas designated industrial,” said Gravois.
The bulk of residential building permits issued in the past five years have been concentrated in the Lutcher/Gramercy area and in Vacherie.
Other factors considered when drawing up the land-use map were the locations of schools and historic sites. Although it was not always possible, the group tried its best to have at least a 2-mile buffer between these sites and industrial sections.
Gravois was careful to point out to the council members that this plan’s designations are intended to steer the locations of future homes, businesses and industry, but the designations are not official zones.
“This plan is not zoning. It’s always been titled as a smart-growth plan,” he said. “These maps show how the parish can grow.”
Gravois presented the plan to the St. James Parish School Board Monday, but the public will have another chance to hear it for themselves when the council meets tonight at the courthouse annex in Vacherie. Following the conclusion of the public hearings, the council will vote on adoption of the plan.