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(Rick Hickman / American Press)

(Rick Hickman / American Press)

Progress brings stress, opportunity to Lake Area neighborhood

Last Modified: Saturday, September 07, 2013 9:55 PM

By Justin Phillips / American Press

“We love our neighborhood. It’s peaceful out here,” Angela Runyon said as she settled onto her couch. She and her husband, Chuck, were just getting in from their kids’ morning soccer games. “I mean, there’s a lot of traffic, but it’s nice. It’s quiet. We’d hate to see all of that change to businesses.”

Angela is one of more than a dozen homeowners living off West Prien Lake Road bracing for change. Lake Charles is growing. Businesses are moving in, roads are under construction, and housing is being torn down and rebuilt. The city is preparing for an expansion. Still, families like the Runyons scattered throughout the area are concerned about one thing — Lake Charles losing some of its small-town charm.

“Look in front of Target, for example,” Runyon said. “Look at the billboards and things they have over there. That’s what I don’t want. I just don’t want this place to turn into a concrete jungle.”

On Arvilla Lane, change is hitting close to home for the Runyons. The new Golden Nugget Casino being built just a few miles from their house has created a domino effect for other changes.

With the new attraction, the state Department of Transportation and Development has fast-tracked the construction of an interchange to accommodate traffic demands along the Interstate 210 corridor between Cove Lane and Nelson Road.

In a recent City Council meeting, an agenda item called for an amendment to the official zoning map of Lake Charles to rezone property on the north and west sides of West Prien Lake Road near Cove Lane from residential to a mixed use. The Runyons are among a group of homeowners who would rather keep their zoning as residential.

“There’s no hard feelings for the homeowners who want mixed use. We don’t fault them in any way. We understand,” Runyon said. “Some of those residents will probably live where they are for a little while, but it will all eventually go to businesses. Our neighborhood is just looking for compromise.”

Angela and Chuck bought their house in 2007 and have done extensive remodeling since. It’s home, but with the coming construction and a real question for what the future holds for the area around them, the thought of leaving is a topic they’ve discussed.

“I’d hate the thought of leaving. We love this house, but we would consider renting it out and building somewhere else if it came down to it,” Runyon said as her husband sat down in the living room. “I’m all for progress, but it needs to be directed. It can’t just be beneficial for businesses.”

In a neighborhood where most of the families bought homes to escape the nuisances associated with living close to the center of a city, the coming construction plans are a problem for the local homeowners.

“We feel like there’s no long-term plan or vision in the city and in the end, it hurts more people that are looking to move into the city,” Chuck said. “To them, it just doesn’t look like a nice, clean place anymore. We love Lake Charles. It’s the perfect size, but right now, the city has outgrown itself. It’s a 6-foot kid trying to put his foot into a size-three shoe.”

Across the street, Angela’s neighbor, Bruce Hamilton, is covered in dirt and working on some of the plants in his yard. He said he moved to the neighborhood for a number of reasons, but the possibility of being closer to busy traffic and businesses wasn’t one of them. Hamilton has been a homeowner in the neighborhood for years, even selling the Runyons the house they’re in, but it’s hard for him to see the coming changes as beneficial to the area.

“My concern is for the residents. We all moved here because we wanted a neighborhood,” Hamilton said. “The traffic is bad enough already with everything the way it is now. Then with the influx of people because of the casino, you’re adding more traffic and things are only going to get worse from there.”

Hamilton said he supports the idea of the city progressing as a whole, trying to capitalize on business opportunities.

“I’m all for progress, but I’m more worried about what’s in the details,” he said.

Around the corner from Hamilton and Runyon on West Prien Lake Road, Bryan Williams is setting up a birthday party for his 14-year-old son. Williams’ house is on a piece of land his family has owned since the 1940s. Slowly, he’s been getting pinched by the city, losing more and more land to Lake Charles’ growth.

First, it was the family ranch that had to be shut down as the interstate was built. Now, it’s a casino and more work on the roads. He still has a few horses. In fact, he’s one of only a few within city limits to have livestock. Still, with the changes, he isn’t sure how much longer he has left at 2600 West Prien Lake Road.

“I’m going to hold on to it as long as possible, but I want to prepare myself for the future,” Hamilton said. “I want to get the most value for my land. I figure I have about two to five more years before we have to really make a decision about what to do.”

Williams is one of several homeowners who will be directly affected by the coming roadwork. He is also part of a group that hired an attorney to represent them when dealing with the residential and mixed-use zoning debate. He is in favor of changing to mixed use.

“I understand the neighbors who want to stay residential. I really do,” Williams said. “I’ve lost income over this over the years too. The truth is that it’s coming; there’s nothing stopping it. I just want to make sure I make the best decision in the end.”

Williams said that even though he’s deciding to keep his options open by favoring the mixed-use zoning, the entire situation is still a tough one to deal with. Most of his family history traces back to the land he’s trying hard not to give up.

“We should be able to help with the development of Lake Charles. I don’t want to stand in the way,” Williams said. “But I do have mixed emotions about it. My family has been there since 1945.”

Marshall Simien is the attorney representing Williams and several other homeowners on Prien Lake Road and Cove Lane. He said there are a lot of misconceptions about what is going to happen to the area if every aspect is given the green light, including the switch from residential to mixed-use zoning.

“People should know the area isn’t going to become the wild west. Any development that comes is going to have to compliment the area,” Simien said. “And with the mixed-use categorization, that means it will have to get the blessing of the City Council before anything is done. They’re still going to have a lot of input in what happens around them.”

Simien said the idea of change is sometimes scarier than the change itself. The city is prepared for growth and with the new projects coming in the new fiscal year, the interchange is just the beginning.

“The unknown factor of change is always scary to people. What is different here is that very few people are able to have a voice in situations like this,” Simien said. “The people I’m representing are invested in the community just as much as everyone else in the neighborhood.”

In the end, Simien said, the families looking to switch their zoning are trying to make the best decisions, financially. With the Golden Nugget and the possible attractions to accompany it, flexibility may be key for the homeowners in this area.

“The construction of this roadway directly impacts them. They understand that it’s going to affect property values, so they want to make sure they keep their options open,” Simien said.

“People have to understand, the roadways are coming. I see it as if, if that’s what they consider to be the lemon, then it’s a chance to make lemonade. The homeowners I represent wanted flexibility so their property value doesn’t drop. If they were in the same position, they would want the same thing.”

Road Work Ahead

Posted By: concerned neighbor On: 9/15/2013

Title: Concerned Neighbor

I live on Arvilla Lane also. I completely agree with all my concerned neighbors. I am a huge supporter of Lake Charles growth and strengthening economy, however, no one wants businesses in their neighborhood. If you put yourself in our shoes, you wouldn't want the changes either. Wouldn't it be wise for the city to make large future plans for growth rather than just slapping businesses here and there as things happen? I think keepin residential areas for that purpose alone is so important.

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