In Sunset, officials trying to visualize the town's future merely have to look to the city just to its south.

The growth, experts say, is coming.

Mayor Charles James, now in his second term after serving two terms on the Board of Aldermen, can look back 10 years and see how Carencro has experienced significant residential and retail growth. His town, less than 3,000 in population, has to be ready for when that comes.

Because at some point, growth south of Lafayette will eventually run out of room.

“We’re seeing in Sunset housing developments come up,” he said. “We’re seeing businesspeople calling and asking about land and the possibility of doing business here. That’s just happening in Sunset.

“The trend is to move north. We’re high and dry. We have plenty of land. We’ve got a railroad and an interstate highway system that will take you anywhere you want to go in the country.”

James is part of the recently formed I-49 Midway Corridor Strategic Growth Initiative, a partnership with the St. Landry Parish Economic Development office, the Acadiana Planning Commission, St. Landry Parish officials and those representing municipalities along Interstate 49 from Carencro to the town of Washington.

The effort is an attempt to create a unified voice among government agencies for commercial development along the corridor, a geographic area that covers 38 square miles, including a half-mile on each side of I-49.

That stretch of I-49, with its service roads and potential for business development, has largely been ignored or has inconsistent growth regulations, said Bill Rodier, executive director of St. Landry Economic Development.

“I-49 is clearly one of our infrastructure assets, and it spans multiple jurisdictions,” Rodier said. “It doesn’t make sense not to take advantage of that. It’s the corridor. It’s the backbone of Acadiana in some ways.”

Rodier also pointed to Carencro and what has happened there in the past 10 years, particularly at the Hector Connoly Road exit. The land there sat undeveloped for years before the Super 1 Foods store opened in 2011. Walmart opened in April 2017, and lots of small businesses followed suit.

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Total retail sales there have surged from below $100 million in 2010 to $221 million through September, the most recent data available from the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. The city is on target to have a fourth straight year of growing sales, and only Carencro and Youngsville are ahead of last year’s pace despite the COVID-19 shutdown earlier this year.

The key has been the frontage roads, said Carencro city manager Don Chauvin, along with the city’s land use codes that eschew traditional zoning rules in favor of ways to allow entities to coexist.

“It actually looks at particular land use,” Chauvin said. “You can have retail office businesses and mechanic shops and still have a residential development. The way we’ve done that is with green space and buffer zones to keep them from being on top of each other and bothering each other."

Those frontage roads, which span from I-10 to just north of the U.S. 190 exit in Opelousas, are critical to commercial development, Rodier said. That stretch in St. Landry Parish is part of the Central St. Landry Economic Development District, which collects a penny sales tax for development along the corridor.

But it has also been home to land-use conflicts, disconnected public infrastructure, poorly leveraged public and private resources, and significant gaps in development, officials said.

“We want to be as much as possible ahead of that growth so it grows the way we want it to grow,” Rodier said. “If we manage the growth correctly, the residential will be off the frontage roads. The frontage road is designed to develop commerce and tax base for the community. They’re tax-generating entities.”

In Carencro, city officials have been able to leverage the frontage roads and facilitate the residential growth away from it. Home construction data there shows 150 new homes sold this year in the area east of University Avenue, south of Hector Connoly and north of U.S. 90/La. 94. 

The Moss Bluff developments east of I-49 will soon feature 400 houses, and another 500 housing lots will be available within the next year, Chauvin said. Many of the homes being built are in the $150,000 to $200,000 price range.

The future is looking bright for Carencro and the cities along the corridor for future development, Chauvin said. The city has set new records for total retail sales in each of the past four years and could top $300 million for the first time this year, data shows. 

“The idea now is to find your niche," James said. "We have to find our niche. We have potential for small to medium industry. Working together and sharing ideas and opinions will help us develop that a lot quicker instead of doing it ourselves.”

Acadiana Business Today: When will growth continue up I-49 into St. Landry? Officials there form alliance to prepare

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