Tensions high with north Lake Charles zoning debate

Tensions were high in the City Council chambers on Monday night as several members of the north Lake Charles community and business leaders spoke either for or against a request to rezone 180 acres of property for industrial use.

The Enterprise Boulevard Coalition wants to rezone property between North Enterprise Boulevard and the south loop of the Calcasieu River from light manufacturing and mixed use to an industrial classification. The discussion at the Planning and Zoning Board meeting lasted nearly four hours, with a dozen people speaking in favor of the rezoning, and 30 speaking against it. The board at one point considered a postponement before ultimately voting 3-1 to reject the request. One board member abstained from voting.

The City Council will take final action on the item at 5:30 p.m. April 1 in the council chambers, 326 Pujo St.

Board member Alvin Joseph voted against the request. He said he grew up in north Lake Charles and has family that lives in the area today.

“I pass by that area all the time, dodging this and dodging that in the street,” he said. “I’m tired of seeing what I’ve been seeing.”

Fitzgerald Darbone, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce, said rezoning the area would provide job opportunities in north Lake Charles.

“As a military strategic analyst, I started looking over the area itself,” he said. “I took to the river — they had access to the river, the railway and the roads. When you have that access of transportation, you get an opportunity to increase product. When you start increasing product, you need more people to work in this particular field.”

Prior to the meeting, the board received considerable correspondence against the proposal, as well as some in favor the zoning change.

Chester J. Jones, founder and chairman of the board of the African American Chamber of Commerce, came and spoke immediately afterwards, saying “I knew nothing about this and did not authorize anybody to come and use my name.”

Hunter Lundy, the attorney for the group of applicants, spoke on behalf of rezoning the area to industrial.

“The only way this works is if this area goes to industrial,” pressed Lundy, “They’re not asking to change anything … the money generated from the increased tax revenue will go to whatever the African American Chamber of Commerce wants or the city of Lake Charles wants.”

Lundy suggested a sunset clause for the property.

“If they don’t do what they say, it’ll go right back to what it is now,” he said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

John Nash spoke in favor of the rezoning, saying a vision is needed for success.

“You’ll perish without vision,” he said. “And not everybody has vision; they can’t see it or recognize when they see it.”

Nash spoke about his several properties in Lake Charles, including gas stations, Nash Properties LLC, and a diner. He said rezoning the property “can create a cash flow for north Lake Charles.”

“The people in north Lake Charles talk … about the funds going to south Lake Charles,” he said. “We can create opportunities for our young people. You’re poor because you make yourself poor. This is an opportunity.”

District A City Council member Mary Morris said a vision, while “slow coming,” already exists for the area. She said she is willing to compromise on a light manufacturing zoning classification.

“Right now, the violations are happening,” she said. “Under light manufacturing, it has everything that they talked about: warehouses, but no industrial. We want no more expansion of industrial.”

Residents spoke up about existing pollution and the devastation that could occur from expansion, along with the fact that north Lake Charles is a mainly residential area already being impacted by loud noises and other environmental factors.

“Why is north Lake Charles not thriving? I have the answer right here,” said Marshall Simien. “One of the primary problems is that the industrial land exists directly adjacent to residential land. This is a small area they’re trying to rezone, but this area right next to that is residential. People live there.”

Mike Smith, a resident of north Lake Charles, said the community in the area deserves a better quality of life.

“I try to represent the actual people … in the area,” he said. “We can’t leave things the way they are, but to change to industrial would devastate the area.”

Joseph, David Berryhill and Frank Pryce voted against the rezoning, while Gus Schram III voted in favor of it. Fayaz Khan abstained from voting.

The City Council will take final action on the item at 5:30 p.m. April 1 in the council chambers, 326 Pujo St.