Crain shares concerns about overbuilding for temporary workers

Overbuilding housing for temporary workers who are here building the high-dollar industrial expansion projects is one of the bigger concerns Calcasieu Parish Planning and Development Director Wes Crain said he has. 

“What happens when all of this sort of flattens out and goes down,” he asked during a discussion Thursday at the SEED Center with members of the group Alliance for Positive Growth.

More than $90 billion in economic development projects have been announced for the Southwest Louisiana region, with more than $40 billion currently under construction. That growth, Crain said, brings about challenges like more demand for housing, traffic, higher real estate costs and more code violations.

Crain said temporary workers prefer staying in RV parks, hotels, apartments or rental homes, over worker villages. The Police Jury has approved six worker villages in unincorporated areas, totalling 11,000 beds. However, Moss Lake Village is the only one operating. The facility can hold 2,500 beds, but only 800 are occupied, he said.

Another reason why worker villages are not being filled is because some employees are commuting to Lake Charles and surrounding areas from Beaumont, Texas, and Lafayette. He said growing requests for park-and-ride areas — a location where people park their vehicles and are bused to work — have led to several being located along the interstates.

“I’ve never dealt with any of this,” Crain said. “To deal with these kind of land use things, we’ve had to try to figure it out as we go.”

Crain said the planning department has grown significantly over the last 20 years, with more than 40 current employees and a $3.8 million budget. Most of the growth in Calcasieu has been in unincorporated areas, but residents still expect the same services a municipality offers.

Crain said the department’s case load has “more than doubled” since the initial wave of industrial expansion projects were announced several years ago. Last year, there were 145 applications for rezoning, variances and exceptions, compared to 55 cases in 2012.

“There’s a lot of people coming in and trying to do things,” Crain said.

Projects

Traffic along West Prien Lake Road near Cove Lane will be relieved with an estimated $16 million project to widen a 2-mile stretch to four lanes. The first phase will start at Cove Lane to the intersection of West Prien Lake Road at West Sale Road. The second phase will extend the roadway to the Country Club Road intersection.

Calcasieu Parish and the city of Lake Charles will split the cost of the project. It is currently being designed, and construction could take two years, Crain said.

Design work to extend Ham Reid Road one mile west to connect with Big Lake Road should wrap up by December, Crain said. The estimated $7.1 million project will include roundabouts at the intersections of Ham Reid and Elliott roads, and the Ham Reid/Big Lake Road intersection. The project should take one year to finish.

The South Ward 3 sewer expansion project has an estimated cost of $10 million to $12 million. The parish is putting up 20 percent of the cost, with the rest coming from state capital outlay dollars. The project will eventually tie the sewer line into the city of Lake Charles’ treatment plant on Haymark Road.

Crain said the new parishwide drainage ordinances take effect in June, with the main goal being to reduce flooding. He said one challenge is separating political boundaries from watershed boundaries, including instances where a watershed is in multiple gravity drainage districts.

Crain said a draft of standards for “urban fringe areas,” or areas just outside city boundaries, should be ready by the fall. He said having the same standards in cities and unincorporated areas is important and more efficient, especially for developers.

Several proposals to amend development codes are being reviewed, including driveway access, parking, landscape plant list and expanding stormwater quality boundaries throughout the parish.

Department numbers

Crain said the permit office issued more than 2,800 permits last year, with $4.8 billion in estimated construction costs. That amount, he said, is higher than normal because it included heavy industrial projects.

Approximately 2,800 licenses were issued last year, including business/occupational, alcohol and special events.

Crain said 2,500 complaints related to code enforcement were filed last year, ranging from trash on property, tall grass and condemnable property.

Crain said the parish has sold more than 750 adjudicated properties since 2002 and has collected $4 million. He said the main goal is to get those properties back on the tax rolls and have them be maintained by the owner.

‘To deal with these kind of land use things, we’ve had to try to figure it out as we go.’

Wes Crain

Calcasieu Parish planning

and development director

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