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  NEW TOWNS
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2006
 

Gulf Coast Watch



A nonprofit foundation is currently forming to fund residential components, such as the Katrina Cottages, in new urban- and SmartCode-compliant projects along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Dubbed the Get Back Home Foundation, the Atlanta-based organization’s executive director, Maggie Whitcomb, has filed articles of incorporation and applied for 501(C)3 status. The program will focus on providing aid in places like Moss Point, Miss., which has recently adopted a locally calibrated SmartCode.

Among its objectives, Get Back Home will sponsor Katrina Cottage construction seminars in areas highly populated with Katrina evacuees, such as Houston, Texas, and Atlanta, Ga. It will also serve as a resource for reliable and easy-to-understand information about new rebuilding guidelines.

Whitcomb seeks ideas and observations from the new urbanist community in order to further this initiative. Immediate needs include working and honorary board members, and examples of comparable organizations in other areas. For more information or to provide feedback, contact Whitcomb at 404.277.3714 or maggie@getbackhome.org.


One response to the enormous rebuilding challenges faced in southern Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina has been realized in the form of the Louisiana Speaks Pattern Book. Produced by Urban Design Associates as part of the Louisiana Speaks planning process, with funding through the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) Support Foundation, the pattern book is a resource for homeowners and the homebuilding industry to use as a guide in rebuilding homes and communities that look and feel like they belong in Louisiana. So far, 100,000 copies have been printed for distribution through Lowe’s and other local hardware stores in southern Louisiana.

“The pattern book is meant to be a tool to help new construction be consistent with, and sensitive to, the existing built landscape of South Louisiana,” says Rachel DiResto, vice president of the Center for Planning Excellence in Baton Rouge, La., which is working in tandem with the LRA on the Louisiana Speaks planning process. “It is our hope that the Pattern Book will ultimately assist in highlighting and preserving the unique architectural heritage and cultural traditions of South Louisiana by bringing attention to the essential attributes that are most meaningful to our citizens.”



An upcoming charrette will focus on the Old Town, Depot District and Hwy 90. 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 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.



After months of lagging behind its Gulf Coast neighbors, Biloxi appears to be taking important steps toward its rebuilding and renewal, reported the Oct. 1, 2006 issue of the South Mississippi SunHerald.

After being presented with a daunting set of recommendations from the city’s Reviving the Renaissance Commission, the City Council found itself struggling with uncertainty, fear and distrust of the suggestions provided during the Mississippi Renewal Forum in Oct. 2005.

The Council recently voted to accept the commission’s report on Sept. 28, an important step toward making the difficult choices needed to implement the report’s recommendations.



On Oct. 17 the South Mississippi SunHerald reported that D’Iberville’s City Council has 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.



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.”



The city of Pascagoula recently 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 city has formed a partnership with NeighborWorks®; DASH (Dependable, Affordable, Sustainable Housing) Neighborhood Revitalization of LaGrange, Ga.; Fannie Mae; the Smith Design Group; and P.C. that will turn this area into a new and vibrant community. The project, which will cost approximately $30,000,000 to complete, aims to jumpstart redevelopment 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.
 
Some of the obstacles faced by Pascagoula include the high cost of insuring property. This tends to deter some developers and is a hindrance to local citizens rebuilding in certain areas of town. Grant funds have also been slow in coming down to provide assistance to citizens with their rebuilding efforts. The lack of affordable housing in the community contributes to urban flight from the city, and creates a real housing challenge for local workers.

The city also is in need of planners to help with the process of rebuilding. Pascagoula is looking to hire at least one such planner in the near future.

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. For a copy of the Renaissance Commission Report, individuals contact the City’s Community Development Department at 228.938.6651.



The city has hired Gulfport native Jeff Bounds to be the planning staff person for the city’s SmartCode proposal efforts, which should reach the mayor and aldermen by mid-November 2006. Bounds, who currently lives in Gulfport, volunteered on the Gulfport charrette at the Mississippi Renewal Forum, then volunteered on the Pass Christian and Gulfport SmartCode charrettes in February 2006. An MIT-trained scientist, Bounds has lived in Boston for the last 20 years, but has recently returned to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

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.

Don Moseley, manager of special projects for Wal-Mart, told the Sun Herald in February the company was seeking to reopen the store within three years and they were monitoring whether residents were returning to the area.

Moseley also suggested management was seriously looking at radical designs for the store offered during the city’s charrette. The design would camouflage the company’s standard big-box-and-wide-open-parking-lot look. Mayor Chip McDermott said Wal-Mart officials have told him they will most likely go with the new design.



City leaders have denied special permits submitted by Habitat for Humanity, prompting the charity homebuilder to abandon plans to construct new houses for more than 70 local families, reports the Mississippi SunHerald.

According to the SunHerald, the Board of Aldermen supported a recommendation from city planners to deny special permits that would have allowed Habitat for Humanity to build nearly 20 new homes on lots that are smaller than the city’s code requires.

Habitat, which is building thousands of houses along the Gulf Coast, was planning to build at least 70 new homes in Waveland, where more than 200 families remain on a waiting list. Instead, Habitat will finish up work on a few homes for families who already own property large enough to meet the city’s standards. After that, the group will look elsewhere.

“We’ll find places to build, but it won’t be in Waveland,” said Wendy McDonald, who runs the Hancock County chapter of Habitat. “We will focus the bulk of our energy on communities that are more receptive to smaller-sized lots.”



All work from recent charrettes for Harrison County in Saucier and Henderson Point, Miss., can be viewed at http://www.AndrewsUrbanDesign.org. The Web site will be updated periodically until the final presentation in December.



In contrast to the city of New Orleans’ slow pace in recovery planning, one of the most hopeful signs has been the emergence of “just do it” planning efforts conducted by the neighborhoods themselves. One of the leading examples was done with a team led by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ), working with the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association.

Before funding can flow, however, the Gentilly plan and the other plans still have to be integrated into a coherent city-wide plan. So one of the key recommendations of the team’s Gentilly report was to quickly “establish a unified planning framework” for the city. The report also outlined some of the proposed elements of such a framework, including “Neighborhood Planning Centers” to provide rebuilding resources to each neighborhood on the ground, “bottom-up.”

The Greater New Orleans Foundation has now established the “Unified New Orleans Plan” and hired the DPZ team to integrate the Gentilly plan into this unified city-wide framework. The team has also been selected to complete the neighborhood planning for the French Quarter, Central Business District and Warehouse District. That means the team is in a position to work both “bottom-up” (for Gentilly) and “top-down” (for the city).

The team includes a representative of Christopher Alexander’s research center, Michael Mehaffy. Alexander has long been interested in “bottom-up” planning and design methods. Mehaffy will also use the results of New Orleans in ongoing research efforts in collaboration with other new urbanist researchers.



The city of New Orleans, Entergy New Orleans, and The Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans presented a Housing Solutions Summit from Sept. 29 – 30.

The free event was held at the Ernest Morial Convention Center in New Orleans and featured national and local experts who provided detailed guidance and information regarding the regional rebuilding process. Down the aisle from the Lowe’s Katrina Cottage display, a team of new urbanists staffed a booth that entertained all comers, backed by a full complement of materials.

The team represented the Congress for the New Urbanism membership, with a special emphasis on the planning team that has been selected under the Unified New Orleans plan to complete neighborhood planning for the French Quarter, Central Business District, Warehouse District and Gentilly neighborhoods. Team members also held meetings with key potential partners and clients, including local nonprofits, neighborhood groups and city leaders.


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.



Rather than invest in roughly 1,200 permanent Katrina Cottages, the federal government has instead chosen to award a $104 million contract to SRS, Inc., which will install and remove temporary housing, as well as maintain approximately 5,000 portable trailer homes in the parts of Louisiana Gulf Coast most heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

According to the Gallatin (Tenn.) News Examiner, strategic-business alliances have helped the company become a player in project management, culminating with this latest success. SRS has completed more than 90 federal projects since 2002.



With 92,000 displaced Mississippi Gulf Coast residents still living in campers, and having already spent more than $1 billion on emergency trailers for residents of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, the federal government is looking for solutions.

Its latest attempt is a rather pricey carrot: $400 million in grant money, which it’s dangling in front of states’ noses, urging them to come up with more efficient and cost-effective ways to house disaster victims.

According to the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, which first reported the story, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Texas are all vying for a share of the grant money, which will be used to fund a pilot “alternative housing” project.

(New Towns offers two words of advice: Katrina Cottages.)



The Associated Press reports that, in a bid to claim a share of the $400 million in federal funds up for grabs, the state of Louisiana has submitted six grant proposals to federal officials -- hoping to get the nod to help them replace FEMA trailers with fast, temporary or semi-permanent housing.

Hurricane victims and local, state and federal officials complain the dollars could be more wisely spent on more adaptable, less temporary housing that replaces the trailers with more livable starter homes that disaster victims could expand, an idea called “Katrina cottages.” With the deadline to submit proposals come and gone, FEMA will decide which proposals get grant money by the end of November, though officials say environmental impact studies could delay the fund disbursement by another month or more.



News reports say New Orleans’ citywide recovery planning process is about to ramp up, beginning with its Unified New Orleans Plan, which seeks to bring together its own results and those of its predecessors into one cohesive course of action, one that proponents say is finally on track for funding, through Louisiana Recovery Authority-administered federal dollars.

The first milestone was a report produced by the Urban Land Institute in Nov. 2005. “A Strategy for Rebuilding” recommended that rebuilding be sequenced according to “investment zones,” based on parameters such as historical significance, topography, homeownership and flood inundation.

Next, New Orleans Mayor Nagin entered the process with his Bring New Orleans Back Commission (BNOB), a panel of developers, business people and civic leaders that, from October 2005 to early this year, formulated recovery recommendations in seven key sectors, such as infrastructure, economic development and government efficiency. The plan and the city’s focus on it went on the back burner when FEMA funding to pursue the report’s recommendations fell through.

The BNOB report ignited a wave of grass-roots activism in which neighborhoods, fed up with the lack of political unity, began organizing their own planning efforts. For example, Gentilly released its plan in May, and Broadmoor residents completed theirs in July.

The City Council contracted with Miami-based Lambert Advisory LLC in April to conduct neighborhood-level planning in the city’s most heavily flooded areas. Lambert presented its final neighborhood reports and planning recommendations at a public meeting Sept. 23.

A new plan is on the blocks now. The Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) is intended to work on two main levels: districtwide and citywide, incorporating work that’s been done with new feedback from residents. It’s managed by the New Orleans Community Support Foundation.

UNOP is viewed as a vehicle to bring all the neighborhood plans together, helping to assure no neighborhood gets left behind. Although there will be some neighborhood-level planning, the details on how and where will be decided at the district levels. Once completed -- the target date is mid- to late January -- the recovery infrastructure plan will be submitted to the City Planning Commission, the City Council, the mayor’s office and, finally, the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

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

SIDEBAR



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.)
www.governorbarbour.com/Recovery/

gulflive.com
www.gulflive.com

LouisianaRebuilds.info
www.louisianarebuilds.info

Louisiana Speaks
www.louisianaspeaks.org

Mississippi Governors Commission
www.governorscommission.com

Mississippi Press
www.themississippipress.com

Mississippi Renewal Forum
www.mississippirenewal.com

New Urban News
www.newurbannews.com

NOLA.com (“Everything New Orleans”)
www.nola.com

South Mississippi Sun Herald
www.sunherald.com

Times Picayune (New Orleans)
www.timespicayune.com

The Town Paper
www.tndtownpaper.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.