Unified Development Code review meeting standing room only

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Calcasieu Parish Police Jury officials accommodated a standing room only crowd Monday evening for a review of the proposed Unified Development Code (UDC).  UDC basically takes all of the parish's development ordinances and combines them into one code - 19 regulations to be exact.

The proposed regulations also expands the existing code based on population growth and changes. Parish planners hope it streamlines and cuts out red tape in the development process.

"I have been told over and over again that we need to expedite the process. I can't tell you how many times a contractor has told me that time is money," said Jennifer Wallace, Assistant Calcasieu Parish Planning Director.

Wallace says the UNC has been in the works for several years and that many ideas were discussed back in 2008 at the Vision Calcasieu meetings. During the last year parish planners have become more organized holding public meetings and working with a 14-member advisory panel made up of realtors, contractors and residents.

"We've really been working hard to get this all together. The Police Jury is really having to spend a lot of taxpayer dollars to fix problems of the past and it's just time for us after 30 years of development regulations to step back and take a look at how we do development," said Wallace.

Monday evening's meeting allowed stakeholders the chance to review changes made before the final proposal is presented to the Planning & Zoning Commission and Calcasieu Parish Police Jury. Parish Administrator Bryan Beam knows they can't please everyone but believes this is a good start.

"It's always been a struggle because you not only have private property rights, but we have to live next door to others with the same rights," said Beam. "We've done a lot and we know there is a lot more that can be done."

One of the most contested items deals with new subdivision and one-acre minimum lot requirements with individual sewer systems. The law has been on the books since 2008, but an exclusion dealing with property given to family members has been included. Parish Attorney Allen Smith has read the entire 417 page proposal and said it's perfectly legal.

"It's a lot of reading that made for some very boring Sundays, but I read over every word and can tell you I did not find a problem with any of it. I did make some suggestions," said Smith. "I invite you to challenge whether the Police Jury is taking property without due process. The zoning ordinance - I think that was established back in the 1920s. But if you file suit in federal court you can give it another try."

As the public weighed in it got heated:

"If you walk on my property and tell me what I can and can't do... It's not right!"

"As I understand it, you guys are going to vote on this thing real soon. As a contractor I don't think it is good... I think it is a bad idea and a mistake. I think you guys need to give the public an opportunity to get a little more involved."

"The one issue I have a problem with is there has been no economic impact study."

"I want the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury to understand is that they are my employees. They work for the citizens of Calcasieu Parish."

"I know a lot of people don't agree on everything that has been discussed and presented tonight. There are several things I don't agree with, but I do believe we have a great group of people working for us at the parish."

The UDC will be presented as an advisory item to the Planning and Zoning Commission on September 20th. If approved it will be further discussed and up for consideration by the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury.