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JULY/AUGUST 2008
 

Gulf Coast Watch

MISSISSIPPI



The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) has awarded $48,262 to 13 local and state Realtor associations through the Smart Growth Action Grants program. The grants are awarded to help associations implement smart growth programs and activities.

Among the recipients of the grants were two Mississippi Gulf Coast associations:

Biloxi Ocean Springs Association of Realtors in Biloxi, Miss., received $1,500 to bring Realtors from several cities together to develop a learning network about initiating smart growth activities in each community.

Gulf Coast Association of Realtors in Gulfport, Miss., received $3,000 to train Realtors, appraisers, developers and community leaders on the provisions of recently adopted SmartCode zoning plans of five Gulf Coast communities.



Well into the third year since Hurricane Katrina destroyed almost all Mississippi Sound shoreline mansions and beachfront shops, the town of Bay St. Louis and much of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties are seeing a construction boom, fueled by $38 billion in federal aid and private insurance money. But while Americans "are willing to invest taxpayer dollars" in the recovery, reports the Christian Science Monitor, "many also want assurances that what rises from the cataclysm is sensible -- communities rebuilt to take another direct hit from a Category 3 storm without devastating loss of life or property."

With federal recovery grants administered by the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), its spokesman Lee Youngblood says a comprehensive recovery program must include direct assistance, help to build more homes, partnerships for large-scale projects, economic development, and a focus on long-term infrastructure and job needs.

Nevertheless, Bay St. Louis historian Charles Gray considers the recovery "much, much slower than we all thought it would be," and the Monitor calls the building boom "a fragile one, susceptible to the vagaries of government decision-makers and the whims of developers."

Although many Gulf communities adopted better building codes and some pledged to center new construction on higher ground, time is of the essence, because some 8,000 Mississippi families still live in FEMA trailers throughout ravaged neighborhoods, and because newcomers and returnees need homes and jobs, concerned that "expediency is not always the friend of prudence."



Mississippi Sun Herald, June 12, 2008 -- State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. wants an average statewide increase of 13 percent for property insurance, but also confirmed that, after Nov. 30, wind coverage will be dropped for thousands of customers.

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said today that Allstate and Nationwide have agreed to pick up policyholders being dropped by State Farm. Allstate and Nationwide will offer those residents homeowner policies without wind coverage.

D'Iberville

A preliminary SmartCode for D'Iberville's historic downtown area and its surrounding neighborhoods was developed by Jaime Correa and Associates in collaboration with the City of D'Iberville Planning Commission, Jeff Taylor and Deonne Olier from the Planning Department, and the general public. The consultant's fees were paid with a Community Development Block Grant awarded by the State of Mississippi last December. The final version is posted in the City's Internet home site; it will be submitted for approval to the City Council in July.

In parallel to the production of the SmartCode, the firm of consultants has been developing site-specific architectural guidelines. The report is modeled along the same lines as Urban Design Associates' (UDA) "A pattern book for Gulf Coast Neighborhoods"; this new set of architectural guidelines capitalizes on specific areas of the master plan, identifies the character of public spaces, refines the architectural production of domestic and civic buildings, and defines a precise character for the massing reduction of hotels and casinos. The architectural guidelines will be approved in tandem with the final version of the historic downtown SmartCode.

Meanwhile, Bridge and Watson, a planning firm from Jackson, Miss., is amending the existing comprehensive plan and producing an updated version to suit the new annexation area north of the City. This process may take a few more months than the implementation and approval of the SmartCode and architectural guidelines. The City Council may approve it, in principle, at the end of summer 2008.

Additionally, Zimmerman and Volk Associates produced a revealing Residential Market Potential report for the downtown and redevelopment areas within the City of D'Iberville. Their target market methodology identified a development potential for almost 1,000 units within the historic downtown. The report spurred the creation of two citizen-based groups: the Central Avenue Task Force and the Downtown Housing Development Committee. The former group, composed of various property owners, developers, local architects, and public officials, has been charged with the coordination of visioning and development efforts along one of the main spines of the City; the other is a housing effort focused on the production of affordable housing and mixed-use buildings within the geographic downtown area.

Gulfport

Gulfport has adopted a SmartCode for three Community Plan areas; a fourth has imposed a moratorium on all new development till it is adopted for them. Another development, Florence Gardens, has been redesigned by PlaceMakers' Howard Blackson and Geoff Dyer; that plan has been adopted as a Greenfield Community Plan.

Working with the Friends of Jones Park and the City of Gulfport, the team of HDR, Guild Hardy Architects, and Brown & Mitchell, Inc., are preparing final designs for Jones Park, the city's 30-acre waterfront park and regional center for public events and activities. Building on plans and studies prepared during the Mississippi Renewal Forum, HDR's design calls for an outdoor amphitheater for large-scale concerts and special events; a promenade along the small craft harbor; a children's play area with splash fountain and new playgrounds; new pathways lined with shade trees, benches, and pedestrian-scaled lighting; open lawns for casual play; and picnic groves for family gatherings.

HDR also is working with Main Street Gulfport to prepare streetscape designs for a 15-block area of downtown damaged during Hurricane Katrina. The design work includes roadway narrowing and boulevard restoration on the City's traditional "Main Street," 25th Avenue; boulevard restoration on 13th Street; and the reconstruction of sidewalks and streetscapes throughout downtown. As part of the project, the City will install curb extensions at key intersections, new benches, trash receptacles, street trees and pedestrian lights.



WLOX, May 20, 2008 -- After years of meetings, promises, and more meetings, large scale work to revamp Gulfport's Jones Park is about to begin. On Tuesday, the design team hired by the city told leaders and community members that while the final plans need a few more tweaks, enough has been done to start the bidding process soon.

Steve Schukraft of HDR Engineering said, "We are closing in on the finish line on the design process for the park. We should be ready in 30 to 60 days to release the bids on at least the initial phase of the project. We're working through the question of what is the right first step."

Whether that first step will be building the splash pad, the amphitheater, or another of the many new improvements, it will all hinge on money.

Moss Point

Moss Point has adopted a SmartCode resolution; a formal ordinance is still in the works.

Ocean Springs

Downtown Ocean Springs has been coded by Dover, Kohl & Partners; a Waterfront Plan has been developed by Torti Gallas. The city is now going through a Comp Plan process with Planning Works.

Ocean Spring residents continue to work with urban designers to fine-tune the vision for the city while beginning to lay the regulatory groundwork necessary to implement new urban principles.

Dover, Kohl & Partners and Torti Gallas and Partners have been involved in jointly producing the Downtown Plan and the Front Beach Plan. The two firms led the Ocean Springs Design Forum for Front Beach and Downtown Ocean Springs from March 10-14. The public input portion was well attended and highly successful. The team then synthesized the many ideas heard from the community throughout the week into a single cohesive Master Plan. The planning team also created a series of computer visualizations, diagrams, drawings and detail plans that clearly illustrated the concepts of the Master Plan for the community.

Planning Works engaged the community during the week of June 2-7 with a Community Design Forum that begins the first steps toward updating the city's Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan will become the guiding document for the future of Ocean Springs. Thus far, the community response has been positive as Planning Works moves ahead to implement the ambitious post-Katrina vision.

In other news, Ocean Springs has received a grant from the Federal Highway Administration valued at approximately $1.3 million for repairs to selected federally designated highways.

The Hurricane Katrina-related grant will repair any subgrade failures and overlay asphalt to portions of several city streets. The grant also will cover repairs to the bridge approaches at Davis Bayou and Heron Bayou.

"This project will allow us to overlay those city streets that were inundated in Hurricane Katrina," said Andre' Kaufman, Director of Public Works, City of Ocean Springs. "This cost was not eligible under FEMA guidelines, and we are pleased that the Federal Highway Administration has stepped to the plate."

Funding to begin this project is expected in the current fiscal year.

Harrison County

Harrison County is wrapping up its Comprehensive Plan and Sand Beach Master Plan with public meetings that were held in June. Adoption of these plans is expected later in summer 2008. This will be followed by revisions to the zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations. More information about planning in Harrison County can be found at http://www.planharrisoncounty.org


LOUISIANA



New Orleans attorney William Borah, now president of Smart Growth for Louisiana, has fought bad projects through his career, reports New Orleans CityBusiness, but only now may his and City Council President Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson's joint work on 2006 Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) recommendations for city charter changes secure improvements. Clarkson will soon introduce charter amendments that would end the council's "unbridled" land-use discretion, restructure the approval process, and vest the power of law in a comprehensive 20-year master plan, expected to be finished next year.

"There are sites in this city that look like they've been hit by bombs," CityBusiness quoted Borah as saying. "That's what happens when you have dysfunctional zoning, and developers are given permission to build things that shouldn't be built."

The city council president is committed to change. "There will be no guesswork any more about what can be built and what can't be," she stressed. "This will free up our time to tackle the city's real problems instead of getting in the middle of zoning conflicts, which we never should have been (deciding) in the first place."

De-politicization of land use decisions and placement of zoning variance requests and other potentially contentious issues in the hands of an expanded, plan-equipped Planning Commission, she added, will ensure accountability and prevent corruption and scandals.

With the Boston-based Goody Clancy urban consulting firm driving the master-plan process, its lead planner Dave Dixon pointed to the need for affordable housing and greater density in some areas. He also would like to create a "tax-increment financing-like mechanism" to spur denser projects.

Brief updates on Mississippi Gulf Coast communities' progress toward renewal can be e-mailed to Jason Miller at jason@tndtownpaper.com.


SIDEBAR: Gulf Coast Renewal Online

Bookmark these Web sites to stay on top of rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast.

Center for Planning Excellence (La.)
www.c-pex.org

The Clarion-Ledger (Miss.)
www.clarionledger.com

Congress for the New Urbanism
www.cnu.org

Governor's Office of Recovery and Renewal (Miss.)
http://www.governorbarbour.com/Recovery/

gulflive.com
www.gulflive.com

Katrina Cottage Housing
www.katrinacottagehousing.org

Learning Cottages
www.learningcottages.com

LouisianaRebuilds.info
www.louisianarebuilds.info

Louisiana Speaks
www.louisianaspeaks.org

Mississippi Governors Commission
www.governorscommission.com

Mississippi Renewal Forum
www.mississippirenewal.com

New Towns
www.tndtownpaper.com

New Urban Guild
www.katrinacottages.com

New Urban News
www.newurbannews.com

NOLA.com ("Everything New Orleans")
www.nola.com

South Mississippi Sun Herald
www.Sun Herald.com

Times Picayune (New Orleans)
www.timespicayune.com

Unified New Orleans Plan
www.unop.org

Editor's note: Suggestions for additions to this list may be sent to Jason Miller, New Towns editor, at jason@tndtownpaper.com.