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  NEW TOWNS
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2008
 

Gulf Coast Watch

MISSISSIPPI

Long Beach

Laura Borden of Ayers/Saint/Gross (ASG), based in Washington, D.C., reports that the firm has been working with Long Beach during the past few years, first to assist them with the development of their master plan, the Long Beach, Mississippi Downtown Renewal Plan.

Currently ASG is assisting with the city's Comprehensive Plan and the development of architectural guidelines. "The hope is that these plans/guidelines will help bring life back to the neighborhood, rejuvenate the local economy, and address the future vitality of the waterfront area," says Borden.

To date, a number of concepts have been considered by the community and a SmartCode has been agreed upon.

Ocean Springs



The City of Ocean Springs, in partnership with the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce-Main Street Tourism Bureau, has announced a new Fašade Grant Program for commercial businesses, west of Martin Luther King Drive, that make exterior improvements to their buildings.

The Ocean Springs Board of Aldermen approved the financing of the grant by allocating $20,000 in its 2008- 2009 budget. The funding period is for one year until funds are expended. Application packets were available beginning Oct. 1.

Projects eligible for grants may receive reimbursement for up to 50 percent of the actual fašade improvement, up to a $2,500 grant per qualified applicant. Only projects that have been approved by both the Design Committee and the Main Street Board will be funded.

Pass Christian



Mississippi Sun Herald, Oct. 9, 2008 -- Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour today announced the state will release $25 million in federal dollars to fund Pass Christian's massive post-Katrina harbor-improvement project.

The harbor, which is near some of the world's largest oyster reefs, would roughly double in size. New slips, which might accommodate a mix of commercial and pleasure boats, and other improvements on the east side would be added.

The money comes from federal Community Development Block Grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Mayor Chipper McDermott said it was a blessing and that it could pay for the entire expansion project.

Local officials are thrilled about the big harbor announcement. "This is a big day in the city of Pass Christian," McDermott said. "We will not forget Oct. 9, 2008." McDermott said the oyster-filled waters south of Pass Christian could produce about 850,000 sacks of oysters during a good year.

Officials from Pass Christian, which has struggled financially since the storm demolished its tax base, had worried about whether the city would stay afloat. But some new businesses have opened up, and the city's recovery appears to be picking up steam. After the big announcement at the harbor, Barbour and his entourage, along with McDermott and other city officials, repaired to Shaggy's Bar and Grill, which overlooks the harbor, to have some oysters and other seafood.

Barbour said he was pleased that Pass Christian, unlike some other local harbors, was going to improve its commercial fishing facilities. Barbour said fishing has always been a major part of Coast life.

"I'm very pleased that Pass Christian took the opposite view and recognized something we all know -- that fishing has been an enormous part of the Coast economy as far back as we can remember," Barbour said. "We have to have the best possible facilities for our fishing industry."

Waveland



The Sea Coast Echo, Aug 22, 2008 -- During the past three years, Coleman Avenue has been the scene of chewed-up streets, piles of debris, and thousands of lost memories. That scene will be changing soon, however, thanks to an announcement of the city's municipal rebuilding plan.

"We have completed the schematic phase," Curt Evans of Digital Engineering said. "Today, we move forward into the design mode. Hopefully, in three to six months, we are going to have construction going on."

The workshop was the first public presentation of the city's plans to construct six municipal buildings. Planners said Coleman Avenue will see four of them. Headlining the list are a new city hall, an annex, and fire department, to be built at their traditional locations. Adjoining the three buildings will be a gated plaza with trees, green space, and a large fountain in the middle. The complex was designed and engineered by Robert Orr & Associates LLC, of New Haven, Conn.

"It is going to be very elegant," said principal Robert Orr, FAIA. "It will be the centerpiece of the city."

"This is the culmination of more than a year's worth of work," Mayor Tommy Longo said Thursday.

Orr had a less glowing review of the current state of Waveland's SmartCode, which his firm calibrated for the city. With 100 percent citizen support, the SmartCode was "tossed out" by the city's planning commissioner, who is now considering a "watered down" version, said Orr. On the plus side, however, Orr's firm continues to contribute to the city, designing a housing compound for a private citizen. "We're also working with a Canadian house manufacturer and a local builder/Realtor to explore setting up reasonably priced, well-designed, Gulf Coast homes," said Orr.

Harrison County

Harrison County adopted its comprehensive plan and Sand Beach master plan in July. The county currently is calibrating its draft SmartCode and is working on updates to the zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations, which are expected to be complete at the end of the year.

Up-to-date information about planning in Harrison County can be found at www.planharrisoncounty.org.

LOUISIANA



The New York Times, Aug. 29, 2008 -- Even though about $3.3 billion of federal taxpayer money has been spent here on the cash grant program known as the Road Home, New Orleans on the third anniversary of the hurricane remains almost as much of a patchwork as it did last year, before most of the money was spent.

The program has had no effect on most of the houses in New Orleans, and has played only a limited role in bringing back the neighborhoods most flooded in the storm. Only about 39,000 homeowners in the city received the Road Home grants and stayed in their houses, of about 213,000 houses remaining in the city. Because of bureaucratic bungling and the high hurdles that Louisiana imposed on those applying for the money, thousands of homeowners never applied at all, and many other people moved away and abandoned their homes.

And so, on many blocks, a diligently restored house or two will be punctuated by a drearily neglected one, with a waist-high lawn out front and a gutted interior. More than a third of the houses in New Orleans remain unoccupied, according to new estimates by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, a figure almost twice as large as in the city with the next-highest rate of unoccupancy, Detroit, with 18 percent.

The center has estimated that about 72 percent of the city's population has returned, a clear improvement from the 50 percent who were there immediately after the storm, but a stagnant growth from the last anniversary, before most of the money was disbursed, when 69 percent had returned. The Census Bureau has given a lower estimate, saying that about 54 percent of the prestorm population of 444,000 had returned as of June 2007.

Overall in southern Louisiana, the program has spent $6.9 billion of the $9.1 billion authorized by Congress, including about 75,000 grants outside of New Orleans.

For the underinsured homeowners who received the Road Home grants, which averaged about $59,000, the money was welcome. The houses that received it are easy to spot: new paint, new trim and fresh plantings outside, while inside furniture and walls sparkle like the model homes in a freshly built subdivision.

But those houses appear to be a minority in the neighborhoods that need improvement the most. The Road Home has not yet made whole areas like Gentilly, the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East.



The Times-Picayune, Sept. 12, 2008 -- Claiming a desire to avoid "unnecessary delays" in removing buildings badly damaged by Hurricane Gustav, Mayor Ray Nagin today suspended the work of a panel that reviews requests for demolition permits in many historic neighborhoods.

The move has drawn howls from preservationists who challenge the justification for the executive order. They pointed out that the mayor already had authority to order properties deemed in "imminent danger of collapse" to be razed without consulting the neighborhood Conservation District Committee or even notifying the owners.

They note also that the decree, which has no expiration date, effectively has allowed the Nagin administration to fast-track demolition permits for dozens of Katrina-damaged properties by sidestepping a mandated historic review.

City Councilwoman Stacy Head said she hopes "this is just a clerical snafu and not an attempt by the executive branch to subvert" the review process.

The executive order does not apply to requests to demolish properties overseen by the Historic District Landmarks Commission or the Vieux Carre Commission.

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


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.