Residents happy with education, not with transportation, results show
St. Charles Parish has a strong educational system, a great economy and good community services but could improve upon transportation, drainage and youth programs and activities, according to 534 residents who participated in a series of community forums.
The forums, which were held from Aug. 18 until Oct. 12, were designed to frame the vision of the parish’s 20-year land use plan. After tabulating comments from those meetings, which included 160 student responses, the parish now knows which direction to head.
“I was pleased but did not expect the level of consensus on issues among the different communities,” Planning and Zoning Director Kim Marousek said. “After we completed the main public outreach effort in August, the Steering Committee decided to go back out to several communities that seemed under-represented: Ama, Hahnville and Bayou Gauche. Although the turnout in those meetings was relatively light, it was surprising how consistent their comments were when compared to the other comments from the earlier public meetings.
“This re-enforced to me and to the Steering Committee that we were hearing main ideas commonly held among parish residents.”
The results showed that residents were proud of the parish’s friendly, small town atmosphere and were near enough to New Orleans in case they wanted to take part in some urban activities such as shopping or concerts.
Education was also a big plus to many who commented, saying that the area has a high-quality public education system, good school facilities and sports programs and offers the ability to partake in the outstanding activities offered at the Satellite Center.
The other positives mentioned by those who took part in the meetings was that the area had an effective Sheriff’s Office and good emergency services, and had a nice offering of libraries, senior citizen activities and youth sports programs.
The main weaknesses in the parish were considered to be the transportation network and the lack of a complete levee system on the West Bank.
Residents also said that the parish lacks a complete, connected road network and has substandard, narrow and unsafe roads with open ditches. It was also noted that the parish is not a friendly one to bike riders or pedestrians and that railroads negatively impact communities.
As for the storm vulnerability concerns, residents cited the lack of a West Bank levee system, flooding problems, poor maintenance of drainage ditches and that the parish has a weak emergency warning system for tornadoes.
Along with the transportation and storm concerns, residents also complained about the lack of a multi-purpose civic center, poor or limited water access and having to drive to Metairie, Kenner or Houma to shop. Another big concern was that the parish does not offer big-time entertainment such as a bowling alley or movie theater.
Other weaknesses included environmental concerns such as pollution and coastal erosion, government shortcomings, perceived East Bank-West Bank divisions and racial, social and cultural divisions.
“I did expect the main themes that arose,” Marousek said. “For example, I expected that the main strength of the community would be centered around the special and unique character of St. Charles Parish. Along that same vein, I expected to see that most residents would not want to become like Jefferson Parish/Kenner.”
Now that the Parish Council and the Steering Committee have the 20-year vision, the parish’s consultant team will be analyzing the existing conditions and the existing trend. The next step will be for the consultants to identify the current course and to determine what policy, ordinance and priority changes need to occur in order for the parish to attain the expressed vision.
The next series of public meetings will occur in early 2010 and they will center around the discussion of changes that will need to occur for St. Charles Parish to be on track to meet the community visioning goals, Marousek said.
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