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MARCH-APRIL 2007
 

Gulf Coast Watch



With FEMA's announcement that it will give Mississippi more than $280 million and Louisiana $75 million for programs designed to provide alternatives to FEMA's emergency housing options, the two states finally have more much-needed funds on the way to realize their rebuilding efforts.

Most of Mississippi's grant money will go toward two kinds of housing: a "Park model," which is an alternative to FEMA's much-maligned travel trailers; and a "Mississippi Cottage," an alternative to mobile homes.

The Park model offers 340 square feet and costs an estimated $22,295 to build in modular home factories. Another $5,000 will cover transportation and installation. The Mississippi Cottage will come in two sizes: a 704-square-foot model at $53,940 plus $8,000 for transportation and installation; and an 850-square-foot model at $64,140 plus $10,000 for transportation and installation.

Louisiana's Cypress Cottage Partners Project is the lone entry in vernacular housing for that state. Approximately 700 units will be built in Lake Charles, Abbeville, the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, and Jackson Barracks. The units will be mostly four versions of Lowe's Katrina Cottages, with the remainder made up of "Carpet Cottages," which are typically one-story clusters of attached cottages that were designed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

Meanwhile, Lowe's is ramping up its efforts to sell its first four Katrina Cottage designs, which were created by Andrés Duany, Marianne Cusato and Moser Design Group. Models of these designs have been built at 29 Lowe's stores along the Gulf Coast in Mississippi and Louisiana (see photo, this page), with the expectation that thousands of people will place orders.

"We're working with financial institutions to create, through Lowe's, lending packages for the Katrina Cottages," says designer Marianne Cusato. "The materials packages will come in six deliveries and will include everything except the foundation and HVAC system."


MISSISSIPPI



Bay St. Louis developer Hester Plauché and Marrero, La.-based contractor Pete Vicari have unveiled plans for a $100 million "boutique" casino, hotel, restaurant and retail project they say will reinvigorate the hurricane-ravaged Old Town area, restore its long-lost historic charm and bring back the downtown merchants deprived of their livelihoods by Katrina. "You won't see the glitz and glamour, no neon," Plauché has said. "You will see the original architecture of Old Town."

New urban planner Bill Dennis points out several challenges for the project, including:

• The developer doesn't own any of the land;
• The developer hasn't talked to many of the land owners;
• The project would close down streets;
• The volume of traffic generated would mean that Main Street would have to be expanded to four lanes; and
• The locals don't want a casino downtown.




Biloxi Mayor A. J. Holloway says he has nothing against regulations that would promote pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use neighborhoods, but he says zoning shouldn't trample property rights.

"What I am against is people owning land and other people saying, 'We have a clean slate, we can do what we want to.' I still believe people have property rights," Holloway said.

The mayor has asked the Biloxi City Council to go on record that it will implement a rebuilding plan for Biloxi that includes "Reviving the Renaissance" recommendations. The specific actions would include developing a new comprehensive plan, updating zoning, preparing new subdivision regulations and setting downtown architectural standards. The move would help the city qualify for planning and redevelopment grants being distributed by the Mississippi Development Authority.

Biloxi has been hesitant to embrace the "Reviving the Renaissance" recommendations made by some residents. Other coast cities are looking at implementing SmartCode zoning, which promotes communities where people can walk to gathering spots such as neighborhood coffee shops or grocery stores. Biloxi is just beginning to consider the concept.



Mississippi Sun Herald, Dec. 13, 2006 -- D'Iberville may well have covered more distance since Katrina than any other single Coast community:

• City leaders hired Jaime Correa, a well-known, Miami-based urban planning consultant, to help design a new D'Iberville.
• Various departments -- the City Council, Planning Commission, Fire Department, city planner and others -- all seem to be turning the same page at the same time.
• D'Iberville is moving ahead with its SmartCode plan and has already designated and planned a new French Quarter-style downtown area. It will accommodate anticipated growth expected to have casinos, retail outlets, housing and an entertainment district.
• In its northern reaches, D'Iberville has already seen rapid growth in retail, restaurants, movie theaters and upscale subdivisions. More are on the way.
• The City Council recently established a new Community Development Department, headed by veteran Coast planner Jeff Taylor.

Correa, who calls Mayor Rusty Quave "the miracle maker," said he has watched D'Iberville improve its plans and procedures and the way things are approached. When he first affiliated with the city, he said, various departments failed to even talk with one another.

He also is urging city leaders to approve their SmartCode plan as quickly as possible. Paul Klobe, chairman of the city Planning Commission, agrees that SmartCode will lay out clear definitions for developers and give the city stronger tools. "This gives us a way to get away from the tail wagging the dog," he said. "[Our] SmartCode will allow the city to manage growth."

D'Iberville's post-storm efforts are bearing fruit. At least two casino groups are making overtures to develop waterfront land on the east side of Interstate 110. The city also has talked with other gambling operatives, including representatives of Donald Trump and Steve Wynn, about locating in the city. In addition, a major retailer is considering a D'Iberville location.



Gulfport has adopted a SmartCode for future development. At a Feb. 13 City Council meeting, the six Council members present voted unanimously to adopt the plan. The city's plan calls for using SmartCode guidelines to redevelop areas along Highway 49. Mayor Brent Warr says the city has allocated $50,000 in the budget for architectural design, which can be used for SmartCode planning.


Mississippi Sun Herald, Feb. 13, 2007 -- If officials with the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) are determined to put a connector road through downtown Gulfport, Warr is just as determined not to let it happen.

"This one won't go through Gulfport," Warr told the Sun Herald, adding that MDOT has a "bulldozer mentality."

When asked how he would stop it, Warr said "Tiananmen Square," referring to demonstrations against the Chinese government in 1989.

"They just need to get their mind around the fact that it can't happen," he said. "I'll go stand out in front of the thing."

For years, MDOT has said it would build Phase I completely before even beginning on Phase II. But the state agency already has started buying rights of way in what will be Phase II.

Wayne Brown, transportation commissioner for the Southern District, said decisions won't be made about that part of the road until the first phase is complete, even though the agency is buying property. The first phase won't be finished for at least another seven or eight years.

The highway connecting Canal Road to the Port of Gulfport has been in the works for years, but MDOT finally is starting to work on it. Brown attended a Gulfport City Council meeting in early February, but had few answers at that time about where the road will run and if it will be elevated.

The mayor and council want the road to run up 30th Avenue, not up 26th or 27th avenues, which would put it in the downtown area.

But Brown said Monday that as of now, Phase I of the road, which runs from Interstate 10 to 28th Street, is designed to be an "interstate quality road" and will include a tie-in to 30th Avenue. He said no concrete decisions have been made about Phase II. "We are under way with designing and buying rights of way aggressively," he said about the first phase.

However, he said there are "too many unknowns" to determine the path and structure of the second phase right now. He said it's unclear how the port will be configured or what will be built downtown.

"In a few years, all those questions will be answered, and then we can start," he said. Brown said the state legislature approved an elevated roadway, so if it isn't elevated, MDOT will have to start over to get approval from the legislature and the Environmental Protection Agency, a process that could take years.



Long Beach has been invited to submit a full application to the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funds for the following projects: (1) Downtown Renovation in the amount of $6,963,000 and (2) Planning in the amount of $470,000.

The planning funds will be used to achieve the following: (a) a comprehensive city plan, (b) updated zoning ordinance and map, (c) subdivision regulations and (d) architectural design standards.

A Selection Committee appointed by Mayor Skellie has been established to review the bids coming forward and to make a selection based on the following criteria: (1) experience -- 30 points, (2) qualifications -- 30 points, (3) capacity for performance -- 30 points, and (4) cost -- 10 points.

All details pertaining to the Request for Proposal (RFP) can be located on the Long Beach Web site at www.cityoflongbeachms.com.

The Long Beach Steering Committee organized and conducted several public meetings to encourage citizen participation in the development of a Master Plan for our community. These efforts were part of the specific requirements which made it possible for Long Beach to apply for the funds made available through the MDA. As of the RFP closing date, eight bids had been submitted.

To date, the Long Beach Planning Commission has not provided City Council with any specific recommendations regarding the Master Plan as initially created by Ayres/Saint/Gross Architects and Planners and further customized by hundreds of Long Beach residents. Nor has there been any specific recommendations regarding SmartCode. The Planning Commission, however, has had several work sessions with Dr. Jeff Bounds, who has been offering assistance to many communities along the coast to help them gain a better understanding of SmartCode and how it can work in their community.

The Planning Commission is considering designating a "Special District" in the Long Beach downtown and surrounding area. This will serve to protect the area and ensure any new commercial development occurring between now and creation/implementation of a new city comprehensive plan will follow certain criteria. Specific recommendations have not been established but attention will focus of building setbacks, parking in the rear and improved building facades standards. The purpose is to shape the redevelopment of Long Beach to help ensure its success as a beautiful, economically vibrant and mixed-use environment.

The city of Long Beach also has received $748,425 from the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) for Transportation Enhancement. These funds will be applied to creating a nonmotorized trail system on the city's canals to provide hiking and biking opportunities. Challenges ahead for completion of this project include obtaining the local matching share funds totaling $249,475, but more cumbersome will be obtaining property rights for right-of-way access along the canals. Individuals from the city as well as the Steering Committee are working hard to see this project come to fruition.

The Long Beach Steering Committee has created a pilot focus group composed of University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Long Beach Campus students and faculty, and Long Beach residents, to explore opportunities to link downtown Long Beach with the USM campus, potentially submit joint grants and utilize concepts put forward from the Long Beach Master Plan charrette process.

Currently, the city with assistance from the Steering Committee is exploring the possibility of pursuing a grant titled "Mississippi Safe Routes to School." This grant would provide funding to build sidewalks to enable children to walk or bike safely to and from schools. Hopefully, the city will be able to access these grant funds for this incredibly valuable project, but once again lack of city resources make this incredibly challenging. Work is under way for the creation of a new Recreation and Seniors Complex, which is slated for completion by spring 2008.






Mississippi Sun Herald, Dec. 22, 2006 -- City Planning Director Donovan Scruggs left his position in mid-January and has gone to work for Tolar LeBatard Denmark Architects of Ocean Springs to do planning-related consulting work. That firm, which is responsible for Cottage Square, a development of Katrina cottage modular homes in Ocean Springs, intends to do more planning work for cities. They would function essentially as planning contractors.



Mississippi Sun Herald, Jan. 13, 2007 -- Community-development block grants (CDBGs) worth $6 million could be coming to Ocean Springs for upgrades to downtown and elsewhere as city officials reach for a chunk of the $500 million in Katrina-recovery money.

The Mississippi Development Authority, which oversees the grants for 49 counties declared a disaster by President Bush after the storm, agreed to let the city apply for $4.3 million for improvements on Washington Avenue and Government Street, including burying utility lines, upgrading sidewalks, and installing new lighting, among other projects.

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.

The $500 million given to Mississippi through CDBGs could be used for planning, economic development, acquisition of property for public use and similar purposes. The city will likely submit applications for more CDBG money later. Among the possible projects would be a new public safety building, and the purchase of the Ocean Springs Seafood property for public use.

A plan to move the city's public works department from its current location could also be funded by additional grants, along with money to get more parking at the marina. Officials said it's hard to tell when the applications would be approved, but they are due in March.




The city of Pascagoula continues to move forward with rebuilding efforts. Pascagoula has submitted a number of projects for funding as part of the MDA Community Revitalization Program. These projects will be an integral part of the community's revitalization. The following projects are being considered for funding and would result in approximately $9,400,000 to assist the city of Pascagoula.

• Riverfront development
• Streetscape
• Planning
• Front Street enhancements
• Live Oak Avenue improvements

The city has demolished the dilapidated buildings at the Carver Village site on Live Oak Avenue and plans a major rebuilding effort on that property. A number of residents have also started the rebuilding process throughout the city.

The public library recently reopened for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. City officials will travel to Washington, D.C., and meet with the congressional delegation with a list of priority projects. Many of these projects deal with the revitalization of the community. One important project that will be discussed with the delegation is the Pascagoula Waterfront Promenade. Once built, the structure will provide added protection along the waterfront during future natural disasters.






Mississippi Sun Herald
, Feb. 9, 2007 -- At his first State of the City address Friday morning at a local restaurant, the mayor of six months, Chipper McDermott, pointed to a slew of reasons why his city should hold up its head. An expansion at the harbor, countless businesses that will return, among others, will pump millions into this struggling city.

He said $28 million in project worksheets are in town hall facing approval. But it will take at least three years before the city will fully be back on its feet. The city is awaiting grant money to get the ball rolling on getting more businesses back. Almost $900,000 is going into restoring the harbor.

McDermott also said most of his wishes for the city are slowly coming to light: bring Wal-Mart back, complete harbor repairs, pass SmartCode, complete sewer and water project along Highway 90 and break ground on a new city hall. All but the latter are in the beginning stages.

"Four of those are guaranteed," he said. "That's 80 percent. I'll take that any day of the week."

"I have been told all my life, if you work hard, something good is going to happen," he said. "I'm going to continue to work hard every day and I'm going to hope something good will happen."

The crowd gave him a standing ovation.



Mississippi Sun Heral, Feb. 5, 2007 -- Wal-Mart has finalized the purchase of land around the former site of its Pass Christian store on U.S. 90.

"I am excited to confirm that Wal-Mart plans to rebuild the Pass Christian store in the same location it stood prior to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina," Tice White, Wal-Mart public affairs senior manager for Mississippi, said in a press release. "Wal-Mart is committed to the citizens of Pass Christian and is excited about the opportunity to once again serve the region."

The release said the company has no specific date for construction. It also said that while the design has not yet been approved, it will be unique to Pass Christian and South Mississippi.




The Clarion-Ledger, Dec. 21, 2006 -- Mississippi will receive more than $280 million in federal "Katrina Cottages" project funds to replace temporary FEMA trailers with more permanent, safer structures better resembling traditional homes, U.S. Sen. Trent Lott announced. The state is taking the largest share -- about 70 percent -- of the $400 million the U.S. Department of Homeland Security' set aside for its Alternative Housing Pilot Program. FEMA will allocate the funds for the construction of three alternative housing units: the Mississippi Cottage, Park Model and Green Mobile. The Green Mobile Project, which will get up to $5.9 million, is energy-efficient housing that can work as temporary or permanent housing.

Congress appropriated $400 million in the 2006 Emergency Appropriations Act for the Alternative Housing Program initiative, which provides the ability to examine recent and innovative approaches that may have the potential to meet housing needs in the aftermath of future national disasters.

Four other states were eligible: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Texas. Overall the states submitted 29 individual plans for funding. Louisiana will receive $75 million to pay for the larger and more-permanent modular replacements for cramped trailers FEMA provides, while $16.5 million will go to Texas and $15.7 million is earmarked for Alabama. Florida, which also submitted proposals for the money, is getting nothing.

A panel of experts from Homeland Security, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the private sector reviewed the states' submissions, ultimately selecting five proposals for funding totaling $388 million among the eligible states, with $12 million set aside for administration and program evaluation.

Louisiana officials, including U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and Gov. Kathleen Blanco, say Mississippi suffered less damage and shouldn't get 70 percent of the Katrina cottage money. Landrieu called the divvying up of the new money "FEMA's upside-down decision-making."

Echoing comments from Louisiana's congressional delegation, Blanco expressed outrage over the state's $74.5 million share of a $388 million pilot housing program for storm-ravaged states, and she called it a parting shot from a Republican Congress with a pattern of favoring GOP-dominated Mississippi.

FEMA officials, meanwhile, said the projects Mississippi presented for funding were simply better.


LOUISIANA



The Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP), developed by 16 teams including Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (DPZ), Goody Clancy, H3 and others, is complete and has been delivered to the city for final approval. A number of new urbanist features proposed by the DPZ team in April and October 2006 workshops are prominent elements, including neighborhood clustering, incentives and guides to raise houses, and neighborhood recovery resource centers. Team member Michael Mehaffy recently met with new recovery czar Ed Blakely, who confirmed his commitment to implement these features.

At the same time, federal recovery money is flowing very slowly to homeowners to assist in rebuilding, thanks to red tape at the state and federal levels, and problems with the administrating contractor. The Unified New Orleans Plan proposes to bypass these restrictions, distributing some $14 billion in additional pubic and private funds through the city and/or the neighborhood centers.



The Times-Picayune, Jan. 16, 2007 -- Dozens of proposals for affordable housing complexes in the New Orleans area are at a standstill because insurance and construction costs are so high that even housing tax credits issued through the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act aren't enough to make the projects feasible financially.

The Louisiana Housing Finance Agency has awarded $121.6 million in tax credits to 97 projects in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes to build 11,162 units of affordable and mixed-income housing. But developers say that with insurance costs having risen from 200 percent to 600 percent on apartment complexes since Hurricane Katrina, tax credits aren't enough to plug the gap.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Under the terms of the Gulf Opportunity Zone tax credit program, projects must be in service by the end of 2008 to qualify. Many developers were hoping to execute financing agreements with lenders by the end of 2006, and to begin work by March 2007 so that they'd have a year and a half for construction before the deadline. But few projects were able to line up financing for the higher construction costs -- and obtain insurance -- by the end of 2006.

The Louisiana Housing Finance Agency expects that many tax credits will go unused because of insurance. It is already looking at ways to recycle unused tax credits back into viable deals, use additional Community Development Block Grant money to plug gaps in apartment deals or increase the reach of the Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to address the situation.




The Times-Picayune, Jan. 31, 2007 -- Architects of the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) said Jan. 30 that their agenda for citywide recovery will cost $14 billion during the next decade, requiring large infusions of government and private money to pay for homeowner incentives, major infrastructure repairs and economic development projects.

"At the end of the day, we're going to have a much better city than we had pre-Katrina, should this plan be implemented," said Troy Henry, a coordinator of the citywide planning effort, the outgrowth of months of public hearings.

It remains to be seen how city leaders, who are giving tentative backing to the unified plan, will fare as they try to persuade Congress, foundations and private investors to put money into the varied rebuilding ideas. Some of the $14 billion -- the exact amount isn't known -- is already available to the city through storm recovery programs, such as the FEMA program that pays to repair or replace public infrastructure damaged by the disaster.

Core features of the broad plan include incentive grant programs that would help city residents elevate their homes, rebuild slab homes using more traditional building styles and help residents relocate from flood-prone, mostly abandoned neighborhoods to more viable ones on higher ground. Those programs alone would cost more than $4 billion in coming years and would supplement any grants already available through the state's Road Home program.

Among dozens of other projects, the plan calls for spending more than $800 million to renovate or build schools and nearly $10 million to add a network of police substations. It also says $2.2 billion should be spent during the next decade on "ongoing replacement of all major and minor city streets."

Planners also proposed creating a Citywide Recovery Council in New Orleans that would bring together agencies -- ranging from the Department of Safety and Permits to the Sewerage & Water Board -- that will play key roles in helping the city mend devastation from Hurricane Katrina; Ed Blakely, whom Mayor Ray Nagin hired as the city's recovery czar, should act as its executive director, the planners say.

Planning consultants refused to consider a relocation program, favored by some national experts, that would force residents to move out of neighborhoods that are mostly abandoned in order to save on infrastructure costs and allow for new land uses. They said there is no political will, so far, in New Orleans for such mandatory steps and that residents signaled during recent public hearings that there should be a right to return to every neighborhood.

The unified plan, which incorporated elements of a City Council-backed planning effort for badly flooded neighborhoods, faces City Planning Commission reviews and more public hearings. It must be formally approved by the City Council and Nagin before it can be forwarded to the LRA, which has a limited pool of infrastructure grants it can award.

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