On Thursday, The Descendants Project faced off again against Greenfield Louisiana, LLC in the 40th Judicial District Court in Edgard. At the hearing, The Descendants Project asked Judge J. Sterling Snowdy to block the St. John The Baptist Parish Council from hearing a proposed zoning ordinance at its next scheduled meeting, on Tuesday.

The ordinance aims to reclassify almost 1,300 acres of land from residential to heavy industrial, which would allow Greenfield Louisiana to build a grain terminal in the small community of Wallace.

For the hearing, The Descendants Project founders, Jo and Joy Banner, sat near the front of the courtroom in matching turquoise jackets, as the nonprofit’s lawyer, William Most, questioned whether the parish had properly followed a number of protocols – including filing a rezoning application, giving notice by mail and through on-site signage, designing the site with a 600-foot buffer zone at its edges, and properly identifying the land to be rezoned.

But most of Thursday’s hearing was devoted to the parish’s requirement that heavy industry must be sited more than 2,000 feet from residential areas of a certain density, according to the parish’s Code of Ordinances

At issue was how to calculate that density: one dwelling unit per acre. Urban planner Justin Kray, testifying for The Descendants Project, walked through his process, which began with U.S. Census counts of residential units within Wallace. Kray determined that four Census blocks in Wallace met the target density – meaning that Greenfield’s terminal must be built at least 2,000 feet from those blocks. 

The parish zoning office, consulting with Jemison & Partners, Inc., a contractor that the parish didn’t pay or hire – likely hired by Greenfield, the testimony suggested – had started with a wider area – the Census Designated Place for Wallace, which includes unpopulated fields and wetlands – and then divided that area by the total number of residential units. That calculation found fewer than one dwelling unit per acre. If that math is upheld, Greenfield does not need to change anything to comply with the parish’s 2,000-foot distance requirements – even if residences of a certain density fall within 2,000 feet of Greenfield.

Yet in the end, the hours of painstaking detail were not germane to Snowdy’s swift denial, which he filed on Friday, denying The Descendants Project’s request for a temporary injunction because it was “premature.” 

The council “has yet to adopt the proposed resolution,” the judge wrote.

Joy and Jo Banner, outside the 40th Judicial District Court in Edgard, where they attended a hearing on Thursday. As a place founded by returned Civil War fighters, Wallace demands that its descendants stand strong, Jo Banner said. “We’re a village of former Union soldiers. We keep pushing back.”  (Photo by La’Shance Perry / The Lens)

To supporters of The Descendants Project, it seems inevitable that they will likely return to Snowdy’s courtroom soon, since the council is expected to approve the rezoning of the Greenfield land from agricultural/residential to heavy industrial, as recommended last month by St. John’s planning commission.

As a place founded by returned Civil War fighters, Wallace demands that its descendants stand strong, Jo Banner said. “We’re a village of former Union soldiers. We keep pushing back.” 

A move to rezone would also carry implications far beyond Wallace, she said. She cited Kray’s testimony that if Jemison’s calculation were accepted, no area in the entire parish would meet the residential density required for the parish’s 2,000-foot distance requirement. 

That makes the Jemison calculation a “dangerous formula,” she said. If parish officials let it slide, they could basically be rubber-stamping heavy industrial development in residential areas parish-wide. 

“Whatever they do to Wallace, that’s what they can do to you,” Joy Banner said. “The 2,000-feet can now be wiped away for everyone in St. John.”

For Kim Mathieu, 66, it is about maintaining the green, rural atmosphere here on St. John’s west bank. “These are the last green spaces on the river between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Everything else is industry,” he said.

Mathieu, a resident of the small St. John community of Lucy, believes that other industry officials are likely watching the Greenfield struggle play out in court and in parish council. While Mathieu lives 10 miles away from Greenfield, he lives much closer to the former Gold Mine Plantation, which was purchased for $35 million by EuroChem Group, a fertilizer company. 

“It’s still zoned residential, but now it might be easier for them to rezone too,” Mathieu said. “They’ve got their playbook, right here.”

Jo Banner nodded at his sentiment. A loss here is about more than the Greenfield Grain Terminal, she said. “It’s a tipping point.”