January 18, 2007 -- Throughout the Mississippi Coast, residents are continuing the long-term work to rebuild their homes and neighborhoods. Not every initiative has moved as quickly as originally hoped, but many cities are working resolutely to institute codes and identify the projects that will best support renewal. Here is a city-by-city update of recent progress.
Like many cities across the Gulf Coast, Bay St. Louis is waiting to hear back from the state CDBG program regarding which projects require full applications. Those projects that are chosen for full application will most likely be funded/built. After a Community Block Development Grant is finalized, a design charrette can be held with business owners, city government and citizens to develop a series of projects for economic revitalization. The charrette will focus on the Old Town, Depot District and Hwy 90. The grant funding should also aid efforts toward SmartCode calibration for the downtown area.
Bill Dennis of B. Dennis Town and Building Design reports he has been helping Habitat for Humanity with design and layout of its houses and projects in the town. Habitat has built 10 houses and plans to build another 20 to 30 more, including live/work units and duplexes.
Ellis Anderson, head of Coastal Community Watch
Eddie Favre, mayor
Yuki Northington, interior designer, Community Hall Committee
Tish Williams, executive director
Hancock County Chamber of Commerce
412 Highway 90, Suite 6
Bay St. Louis, MS 39520
The Pass Christian Planning Commission publicly heard its highly modified SmartCode on Dec. 14. In a 4-2 vote, the Planning Commission accepted the SmartCode, sending the proposal to the Board of Aldermen for final approval.
There is some local controversy, as many residents believe the Planning Commission’s modifications have resulted in something too far from the original document prepared during the January 2006 SmartCode charrette to be properly called “SmartCode.”
On the Wal-Mart front, the South Mississippi SunHerald reported on Sept. 29 that the mega retailer is proceeding cautiously with rebuilding its Pass Christian store, citing demographics, design, location and costs of construction as issues. Tice White, a spokesman for Wal-Mart in Louisiana and Mississippi, stated that the cost of rebuilding in the area is making the company approach the project cautiously.
Earlier in 2006, the company had suggested it was seriously looking at radical designs, offered during the city’s charrette, that would camouflage the company’s standard big-box-and-wide-open-parking-lot look.
Chipper McDermott, mayor
Joe Piernas, alderman
Anthony Hall, alderman
Huey Bang, alderman
Dayton Robinson, Planning Commission chair
Jim Schmitt, resident
Martha Murphy, resident
Washington, D.C.-based Ayers/Saint/Gross Architects + Planners (ASG) won a Baltimore Chapter American Institute of Architects Design Award for its Master Plan for the City of Long Beach, a project which began during the Mississippi Renewal Forum in Oct. 2005. The award was presented on Oct. 20, at the 43rd Annual Design Awards and “Italian Renaissance” Beaux Arts Ball, sponsored by the Baltimore Chapter of the AIA.
Jacquie Lipski, chair of the 300-member Long Beach Steering Committee, reports:
“The Steering Committee worked to customize the Master Plan provided to us by ASG. On Sept. 19, 2006, our City Council unanimously voted to adopt the Master Plan in concept. From that point, the plan was deferred to the City Planning Commission to review and make specific recommendations of where to begin and how to initiate plan/project phases.
“Reliable sources have stated that the city is pursuing millions of dollars in MDA grant funds to focus on rebuilding our downtown core. Other funds are being pursued to rebuild and expand our harbor, provide a state-of-the-art seniors center and recreation complex, and provide tree landscaping. At question is if the city is truly committed to implementing the plan which was adopted in concept by City Council. Much coordination and communication is required to pursue grant funds and determine which projects are priorities. Effectively executing this is a challenge our city is facing.
“A specific challenge at hand is whether or not the city will adopt SmartCode, be it a current zoning replacement or used as an overlay. The Master Plan created used SmartCode as a vehicle to make it a reality in the reconstruction and rebuilding of our city. If SmartCode is not utilized, what the city will use to make the plan a reality is unclear. Achieving a true understanding of what SmartCode is and how it could impact our city is another challenge faced by our City Council and City Planning Commission members.
Much hard work is ahead as we dive into the nuts and bolts of rebuilding Long Beach. Lack of a city planner, architects and dedicated grant writers compound our challenges significantly. I remain hopeful, however, and will continue to work hard to support the city in whatever capacity I can. Many of our citizens share this sentiment.”
Jacquie Lipski, chair
Long Beach Steering Committee
The city’s planning commission voted to adopt SmartCode framework on January 11, 2007. Jeff Bounds, a participant in the Mississippi Renewal Forum, worked with the council to address questions and concerns about the SmartCode.
“After a lengthy and sometimes contentious workshop with city council members and Jeff Bounds, an advisor to the city on SmartCode,” reported the South Mississippi SunHerald, “the commission changed their agenda during Thursday's meeting to vote on it.”
The SmartCode framework now goes to the city council for a vote. If the SmartCode framework is approved, Community Plans will be proposed for each area of town under the framework.
Jeffrey Bounds, planner
After being presented with a daunting set of recommendations from the city’s Reviving the Renaissance Commission, the Biloxi City Council had wrestled with uncertainty over the commission’s suggestions. The Council voted to accept the commission’s report on Sept. 28, 2006, an important step toward making the difficult choices needed to implement the report’s recommendations.
The Mississippi SunHerald reported a struggle over a plan for what may become the city’s tallest building. Clark Griffith, chairman of the Reviving the Renaissance Committee, gave an impassioned speech on Dec. 5 to the City Council on why it should not grant an exception for the 198-foot-high, 33-story Tower at Edgewater. The Planning Commission had recommended that the council approve the tower.
“Gentlemen, that’s not a variance,” Griffith said. “That’s a total disregard and disrespect to the Biloxi Land Development Ordinance.” He described the tower as a “monstrosity” and “eyesore” at the western end of a city whose citizens have said they want its coastal ambiance and architectural history preserved. “I wanted to make sure they got the message,” Griffith said after the meeting. “We are not going to sell our heart and soul.”
The City Council removed the Tower at Edgewater from the agenda, just as it did another matter last July proposed by the same developer, Kenny Lobell of GCID. Mike Boudreaux, president of GCID, said the tower fits in with rebuilding plans because it encourages pedestrian traffic into Edgewater Mall and a townhouse component on the north side, where homes will start at $89,000 but average $159,000. The reason for building the tower taller is to offset the higher costs of insurance and construction.
On Oct. 17, 2006, the South Mississippi SunHerald reported that D’Iberville’s City Council created the city’s first Department of Community Development, naming planner Jeff Taylor to head the effort and pioneer plans for the city’s growth. Taylor will continue development of the city’s Geographic Information System, pursue grants for various city projects, and work with citizens and developers as D’Iberville’s growth continues.
Taylor also intends to press forward on adoption of the city’s SmartCode. Part of that involves renewal of the city’s Old Town district, where city leaders foresee a mixture of casinos, related tourist-oriented businesses and residences.
In other news, D’Iberville is looking to designate the southeastern section of the city for
casino resort development. The area encompasses almost 350 parcels of property from the Jackson County line to Interstate 110. A public hearing on the proposed zoning was set for Oct. 24.
The city wanted to give casino investors guidance on areas that would be suitable for development, said City Manager Richard Rose. “That doesn’t mean the city will force people to sell out to a casino through eminent domain.”
D’Iberville has one casino development in the works on the west side of Interstate 110, an area that already is zoned for gambling resorts and condominiums. The new overlay zone could open up more sites for development, said Rose.
Richard Rose, city manager
City of D’Iberville
Jeff Taylor, city liaison
City of D’Iberville
Rusty Quave, mayor
City of D’Iberville
Guild Hardy Architects
The Mississippi Development Authority has agreed to let Ocean Springs apply for $4.3 million in CDBG money for infrastructure improvements on Washington Avenue and Government Street. The city also was approved to apply for $545,000 for city-planning projects including money for SmartCode calibration, updating zoning rules and changes to the city's comprehensive plan.
Additional grant applications allowed by the MDA are $600,000 for Fort Maurepas park improvements and $100,000 for work on the Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center on Government Street.
The city will likely apply for more CDBG money and additional grants later. The projects under consideration include a new public safety building, and a plan to move the city's public works department.
The city has extended $1 building permits for single-family homeowners trying to rebuild. This extension will last until June 30, 2007. The city also extended permission for people to have travel trailers and other temporary housing on their private lots for the same time frame.
Alderman-at-Large Julia Weaver reports that many residents still have not found the resources to rebuild. Some are still wrangling with insurance companies; others are waiting on homeowner assistance grants from the state government.
The city of Ocean Springs lost 177 homes in the storm with more than 1,500 having significant storm damage (flooding or roof damage). However, the basic infrastructure of the city is back up and running. Sales tax receipts are higher than normal; state and federal aid have helped city government with needed resources. Schools, water and sewer, parks and recreation, shopping districts and public safety are all fully functional.
The bridge between Ocean Springs and Biloxi is slated to be partially open November 2007.
Connie Moran, mayor
Julia Weaver, alderman-at-large
The Mississippi Press reported Dec. 5, 2006, on the City Council’s consideration to create a downtown in order to gain access to grant funding. Community Services Director George Carbo has put together a plan that will not only designate a specific area as central Gautier, but will enable the city to seek grants through the Mississippi Development Authority’s 2006 Katrina Supplement Community Development Block Grant.
A portion of the grant has been set aside for the revitalization of downtown areas in cities impacted by Hurricane Katrina. But before Gautier can apply for any funds there must be a specified downtown area. Once the area is designated, the city’s intent is to apply for available funds for assistance in revitalizing.
Jeff Wilkinson, at-large
Christy Wheeler, city manager
The Pascagoula Renaissance Commission Report has been adopted by the City Council and is being used as a road map for future development and revitalization of the community. The report includes many ideas for rebuilding, from new housing to rewritten codes. For a copy of the Renaissance Commission Report, individuals may contact the City’s Community Development Department at 228.938.6651.
The city has partnered with nonprofit organizations and others to rebuild an area that was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, with most of the homes completely destroyed or severely damaged. There are plans to build 200 – 300 homes in this area. The homes in this area will be built using the new elevation standards for the city. They will range from 900 to 1,400 square feet, and will resemble the Creole-style homes of the 1800s that were built along the Gulf Coast.
Other planning activities include a waterfront plan that is now being developed. Pascagoula has been working with EDAW, a group of planners, to help facilitate this project.
The city has entered into a lease to purchase agreement for the Live Oak Apartments, to completely revitalize that damaged and abandoned apartment complex. It is a prime location for redevelopment with its close proximity to Highway 90. City plans include civic and retail projects at the location. Once all of the apartments are demolished, Pascagoula has plans to build a senior citizens center and a community center on the site.
Some of the obstacles faced by Pascagoula as it rebuilds include the high cost of insuring property, lack of grant funds, and an ongoing shortage of affordable housing in the community.
Harrietta Eaton, dir. of Admin.
Kay Johnson Kell, city manager
City of Pascagoula
The City of Moss Point has finalized the renewal vision for a downtown centered on eco-tourism, mixed-use development and SmartCodes. Since July of 2006, elected officials have been working with HOK Planning Group, Institute for Sustainable Communities, Moss Point Commission and community leaders to create a social experience unique to Jackson County and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
SmartCode: The Planning Commission has defined the Downtown District and subsequent overlay codes, developed uniquely for Moss Point. The Mayor and Board of Aldermen will hold the final public hearing for SmartCode in January 2007 followed by a final review.
Downtown Renewal Plan: Six Ward meetings were held from July to August 2006, with almost 70 percent of citizens saying they would highly promote the plan within the community. After making several adjustments based on community input, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen adopted the Downtown Renewal Plan in fall 2006.
Reconstruction of Main Street, Riverfront Park, the fire station, Riverwalk, Marina Pier and City Hall: Grant applications have been submitted to Mississippi Development Authority’s Community Development Block Grant and the Coastal Impact Assistant Program for state and federal dollars needed to perform catalyst projects for downtown rejuvenation.
Xavier Z. Bishop, mayor
City of Moss Point
Jennifer Flanagan, liaison to the mayor
The next round of plans have been developed for Harrison County; they include plans for Henderson Point-Pass Christian Isles and Pineville. The plans can be found at the Harrison County website.
Past charrette work for Harrison County in Saucier and Henderson Point, Miss., has been posted at www.andrewsurbandesign.org.
Patrick Bonck, Harrison County zoning administrator
Gannett News Service reports that bureaucratic delays and a spat between Mississippi and Louisiana have stalled release of federal money the two states need to move Hurricane Katrina victims into Katrina Cottages and other permanent homes. Meanwhile, people outside the Gulf Coast have expressed interest in using the cottages for everything from vacation homes to ski lodges to military housing, according to California-based Housing International, which manufactures some of the homes.
That means families living hundreds of miles from the Gulf Coast and New Orleans may move into the storm-proof cottages months before most Katrina victims do. Katrina Cottages’ steel construction can protect against earthquakes in Calif., as well as hurricanes in the Gulf Coast. Local governments also are interested in the houses as part of urban renewal plans.
Housing International has built a new factory in Reserve, La., to manufacture the cottages in an assembly line process. The company hopes to build 5,000 homes a year.
Delays in moving Louisiana and Mississippi residents into Katrina cottages are partly due to fierce competition between those states and others for a $400 million pilot program that would replace government storm trailers. Even after FEMA announces the winning proposals, it will take months before any money is released because environmental impact studies must be conducted and dozens of federal regulations must be met.
Marianne Cusato, a New York architect who created one of the first Katrina cottages, says many Katrina victims will decide to buy the cottages themselves instead of waiting for federal help. “If the government can’t do it, it can be done through private
enterprise,” she said.
A first draft of a conceptual plan for a Mississippi Renewal Design and Development Center (MRDDC) has been completed, reports Chuck Bohl, director of the Knight Program in Community Building at the University of Miami School of Architecture.
Initial discussions surrounding the design and development center actually preceded the Mississippi Renewal Forum in Oct. 2005; the Forum provided an opportunity to explore the potential for a center through discussions with state and local representatives.
The University of Miami’s Community Building Program, supported by the John L. and
James S. Knight Foundation, took up the challenge to pursue the initiative. It secured funding from the New Hampshire Charitable Trust via the Smart Growth Funders Network to convene a two-day business planning workshop held in Gulfport, Miss., in August 2006, and resulting in the conceptual plan draft.
The proposed MRDDC will fill the gap between the state and local visions for a bright future and the reality of implementing plans and rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.
The Gulf of Mexico Program awarded the Mississippi Renewal Forum a first place Gulf Guardian Award for 2006 in the Partnership Category for the rebuilding and recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina. The award was presented during the Third National Conference on Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration on December 13, 2006, at the Hilton Riverside Hotel in New Orleans, La.
The governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, established the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal. This Commission was chaired by Jim Barksdale, who along with the Knight Foundation donated $1 million each to finance it. The effort was charged with the monumental task of redesigning and rebuilding 45,000 homes and businesses in three counties.
“I commend Governor Barbour and the organizers/sponsors/conveners of the Mississippi Renewal Forum for their vision in seeking out responsible design options for rebuilding the homes, neighborhoods, and communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina,” said Jimmy Palmer, EPA regional administrator in Atlanta, Ga. “The Gulf of Mexico Program is proud to recognize them for their leadership and commitment in these unprecedented efforts.”
For a list of all the Gulf Guardian Award winners for 2006, go to the Gulf of Mexico Program Web site at www.epa.gov/gmpo and click on the Gulf Guardian Award button.