Durel: Lafayette's travel trailer ban too broad

Folks living in travel trailers in rural Lafayette Parish have been given a reprieve from having to comply with a new regulation restricting their use.

City-Parish President Joey Durel said this week he has directed his staff not to enforce a regulation the City-Parish Council approved that bans the use of travel trailers as permanent homes in unincorporated areas of Lafayette Parish.

Durel had initially vetoed the ordinance, but the council in November voted unanimously to override that veto.

Durel said in an email Tuesday he believed the travel trailer ban was too broad and gave staff too much discretion under a provision that allowed the director of the Department of Planning, Zoning and Development to make the judgment on when to waive enforcement.

“As you know, I vetoed this ordinance because it is too much heavy handed government regulation and anti property rights,” Durel wrote. “But one of my biggest concerns is that it could give a vindictive politician the ability to punish enemies and reward friends. ... There need to be clearly defined rules that can be equally enforced.”

Durel said he would consider enforcing a more narrowly crafted regulation.

City-Parish Councilman Jay Castille, a supporter of the ban, said Tuesday that Durel should have stepped in much earlier if he saw problems with the new regulation, which was drafted by zoning staff who work under the oversight of the administration.

“He should have read that ordinance before it hit the table. Apparently he didn’t,” Castille said.

Castille said some form of regulation is badly needed to address what he sees as unsafe, long-term living arrangements in travel trailers.

Still, Castille acknowledged that the ordinance in its current form should be tweaked and said he hopes the council can take up a reworked version in the coming weeks.

At a meeting in October, Zoning Director Eleanor Bouy said the travel-trailer ban was needed to address growing complaints about homeowners renting out space in their yards and driveways to house itinerant workers.

The regulation would not ban all travel trailers from rural areas of the parish but rather restrict the amount of time the trailers could be used as a residence to 180 days in any calendar year.

Zoning laws already prohibit living in a travel trailer in the city limits of Lafayette.

Even some council members who voted to approve the ban in November had raised concerns about whether it might prevent construction companies or oil-related businesses from using travel trailers as employee housing for long-term projects.

Another issue: The ban would impact even the owners of high-end travel trailers and RVs, some of which cost more than many houses in rural Lafayette Parish.

“There are a lot of RVs out there that are safer than some homes people are living in,” said City-Parish Councilman Andy Naquin, who voted to override Durel’s veto of the regulations but still believes they need to be amended before enforcement begins.

Jim Gauthier, owner of Gauthiers’ RV Center in Scott, said he doesn’t dispute that there are many poorly made travel trailers not fit for use as a permanent home.

But he said the problem is mainly the thousands of cheaply travel trailers used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for temporary housing in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Many of those FEMA trailers have since been re-sold at auctions across the state at steep discounts.

“There are trying to get rid of some of the FEMA trailers, but they are catching even those that are not part of the problem,” Gauthier said.