On Tuesday, St. John the Baptist Parish Council voted to rezone nearly 1,300 acres of land on the rural West Bank of the Mississippi River from residential to heavy industrial use. The land is currently leased to Greenfield Louisiana, LLC, which plans to build a massive grain-export facility in the historically Black community of Wallace. 

Within those involved with the zoning process, people’s opinions vary widely.

Calling the process “transparent,” Lynda Van Davis, counsel and head of external affairs for Greenfield Louisiana, said that the company appreciates those who spoke out for the grain terminal. “Their voices of support are opening pathways to revitalization that can coexist with existing tourism-based businesses,” Van Davis said. “Together, we are committed to taking the parish into a safer, greener, and more prosperous future.”

But the fight continues in the minds of those who fought the council’s approval of industrial zoning for the Greenfield site, said Wallace natives Joy and Jo Banner. In 2021, the Banners founded The Descendants Project, a nonprofit focused on advocating for the Black community in Louisiana’s river parishes. The nonprofit has been embroiled in months of litigation about the re-zoning of the Greenfield site.

Last week, Judge J. Sterling Snowdy of the 40th Judicial District Court in Edgard denied a request made by The Descendants Project to block Tuesday’s vote. Complaints about the re-zoning were “premature,” he wrote, because the parish council hadn’t yet re-zoned the land. 

Joy Banner raised Snowdy’s finding at Tuesday’s parish council meeting, as she dared the council to put itself back into his court. “I want you to make this vote … make that mistake,” she said.

Because of what she has called “a dangerous formula” to determine residential density, the council’s vote would not only affect Wallace but the entire parish, which would now be open to industrial encroachment, she said.

Tuesday’s 7-2 vote by the council in favor of Greenfield affirms a controversial residential-density calculation devised by a consultant, Jemison & Partners, Inc. Using the formula, Jemison determined that the residential density near the Greenfield site was not high enough to require the 2,000-foot separation between residential and heavy industrial zoning that’s allotted in the parish’s Code of Ordinances

Supporters of The Descendants Project contend that Jemison divided the total number of residential units into too broad of an area, using the boundaries of Wallace as a “census-designated place,” which includes wetlands and the batture area along the Mississippi River levee. 

With a more pinpointed way to calculate residential density, urban planners hired by The Descendants Project examined individual census blocks to determine density – and parish-mandated separation. Using this method, which they believe is correct, The Descendants Project planners concluded that four sections of Wallace triggered the 2,000-foot separation requirement. They also found that Jemison’s way of calculating density would never trigger the 2,000-foot requirement, anywhere in the parish.

That is why Tuesday’s vote was about much more than Greenfield, Joy Banner said.

She said as much to the parish council members, as she stepped to the podium for public comment on Tuesday. “I want your constituents to ask you,” she said. “Why are you sacrificing their protection all for Greenfield? Why are you sacrificing that protection for a grain elevator?”