Gulf Coast Watch
Planner Ann Daigle has completed a 29-page report that summarizes the immediate and long-term impacts of the Mississippi Renewal Forum (MRF) on the people and places of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Prepared for Andrés Duany and funded by the Knight Program in Community Building, the report lists numerous findings, including:
"Although rebuilding has been extremely tedious and slow -- primarily due to market conditions beyond local control such as land and construction costs, skyrocketing insurance and the economic downturn -- the legacy of the Renewal Forum is literally a changed paradigm for how Gulf Coast citizens view planning and development."
"A new lexicon of New Urbanism, smart growth, traditional neighborhood patterns and mixed use now dominates planning efforts."
"In a region devoid of progressive planning pre-Katrina, the conversation has changed dramatically. Publicly accessible planning is now proactive at the city, county and regional levels, and is key to business and civic organization discussions."
"Thanks to CDBG disaster relief funds totaling $10 million and dedicated to planning, every one of the 13 towns and three counties has embarked on a rewrite of their Comprehensive Plans, zoning codes, subdivision regulations and architectural guidelines. Over half have adopted the tools provided by the Forum team, and the others are incorporating the major components and principles for implementation. All jurisdictions have either hired permanent planning assistance or are seeking resources to do so."
PlaceMakers, LLC continues to work this city's Architectural Guidelines and Subdivision Regulations, reports Susan Henderson with the firm. At press time, the architectural guidellines were 95 percent toward completion, with a target completion date of mid-September. The subdivision regulations are 70 percent of the way toward completion; Henderson hopes they will be finished before the holiday season.
Mississippi Sun Herald, Aug. 5, 2008 -- The Ocean Springs Planning Commission and Board of Aldermen have recommended and approved a special use permit for the development of Cottage Square. On a 2-acre plot at 2151 Government Street, the Mississippi Alternative Housing Program can now build a mixed-use model project with permanent affordable housing, a pattern for other communities to follow.
"This project will draw national attention and is a perfect example of using these cottages for a neighborhood that will incorporate mixed-use and affordable housing for the residents," said Ben Brown of PlaceMakers, a consulting firm.
"This is something we have looked forward to since the Governor's Renewal Forums in 2005. It is a really big deal because this is the first opportunity the country has seen using Mississippi Cottages in a real neighborhood setting," he said.
The Katrina Cottage Group and architect Bruce Tolar have owned the land for more than two years and currently have three commercial cottages there. Once completed, the property will have commercial cottages and eight one-bedroom residential cottages.This development is considered a model for how these cottages can be used.
Ocean Springs, Miss., Mayor Connie Moran has been invited to join the board of directors of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). According to Hank Dittmar, chair of the board of directors for the CNU, Mayor Moran was nominated by the CNU for her "leadership in the response to Hurricane Katrina, and continuing dedication to rebuilding in line with the ideas expressed in the CNU Charter."
"It is an honor to be recognized by the Board of the Congress for the New Urbanism," said Moran. "I am looking forward to working with nationally recognized talent in these fields and incorporating these ideas into our community."
The requirements of board members include working with various ad hoc committees during the year, establishing policies for the organization and directing staff efforts on CNU projects. Current CNU projects include bringing restorative plans to hurricane-battered communities and restoring unproductive malls into mixed-use neighborhoods. The term of office for this position is two years, with a maximum of serving four two-year terms.
In other news, town planner Kevin Klinkenberg reports his Kansas City, Mo., firm, 180° Urban Design + Architecture, is working with PlanningWorks on a new comprehensive plan and Unified Development Code (UDC) for Ocean Springs. The UDC will incorporate a form-based code district.
The city of Pascagoula reports the following projects:
A new Pascagoula senior center is being designed, and construction is planned for early 2009. It will be located on a portion of an 18+ acre site that was purchased by the city of Pascagoula in 2008 with MDA grant funding and CDBG Entitlement grant funding.
The Heinz property is in the process of preparation for demolition. Bids were received early in August and are being evaluated. Purchase of the land from the county was made possible through MDA grant funding, along with the demolition and some infrastructure improvements to the site. This land will be used for the revitalization of the riverfront. The city of Pascagoula is committed to reinvigorating the riverfront into a mixed-use commercial and residential development.
Property acquisition has been proceeding this year to support a new boat launch under the High Rise Bridge and the associated historic pathways project.
Skate park bids have been accepted and construction should be under way by the end of August. The projected completion date is the end of October.
Improvements have been made at the soccer complex to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and to improve lighting for the fields.
Cottage Village Development: Sixteen cottages were approved by the City Council for development into a village on Delmas at Frederic Street. The village will be developed with adequate parking and an attractive green space area for residents to gather, rest and enjoy the benefits of the area. For two years, they will be used for a mixture of residential and shopping space, with first availability going to housing residents affected by the storm. After two years, the cottages will be transformed into a shopping village area.
The city of Pascagoula has been working with the Corps of Engineers during 2008 to develop a plan so the city will get an enhanced beach along Beach Boulevard. The landscaped beachfront will be supplemented with a promenade. The addition of the beach itself will offer protection from future storms by providing an area for waves to dissipate before reaching the roadway and adjacent homes.
The historic train depot that houses a local art gallery reopened earlier this year.
The Splash Pad at Beach Park opened this year, and the city of Pascagoula has continued with their beautification efforts by planting 1,139 new trees.
The city has plans to restore the old Pascagoula High School under the guidelines of the Department of Archives and History. The restored building, called Bayside Village, will provide apartments for the elderly with various levels of assisted-living needs.
The beach pier was reopened this year, in time for Memorial Day, built with concrete piles and a new cable rail system. The new construction should make this pier more resistant to future storm events while providing an attractive location for families to gather and for visitors to fish.
Pascagoula's Public Works office building was reopened from Katrina repairs this year. The office is located on 14th Street, and the reopening of the facility allowed these employees to move out of a temporary building back into their permanent building.
Planner Jeff Bounds delivers the latest news in the Pass: The regulating plan for the final quarter of the town, the long-awaited North Central Community Plan, has been submitted to the Planning Commission for comments and adjustments preparatory to public hearing for adoption. Once adopted, this will leave Pass Christian as the first town we are aware of in the country to have jettisoned its existing zoning entirely in favor of a SmartCode citywide. The town currently is drawing up new Subdivision Regulations that tie directly into the SmartCode; Pass Christian adopted the SmartCode, a compatible Comprehensive Plan, and Community Plans covering three quarters of the town in spring of this year.
The town currently is the most advanced on the Mississippi Coast, with respect to adoption and implementation of the SmartCode and, despite the Pass's nearly complete annihilation by Katrina, in this regard it has left all its more well-heeled sister cities in the dust. The town's Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Adjustments, and Historic Commission have embraced the new code enthusiastically and have enforced the code's intent admirably over the last few months.
The city is still in recovery, and the recent economic slowdown has affected rebuilding somewhat, but both the East Pass Village area (where the Wal-Mart will be rebuilt at the center of a SmartCode neighborhood center) and the Downtown Pass area are bright spots where we anticipate great things. A new redevelopment effort focused on the downtown has joined the interests of resident advocates and of local developers and downtown property owners, who frequently found themselves on opposite sides of issues during earlier planning efforts to determine density and height limits. The groups have united behind the city's new SmartCode Downtown Community Plan and are aligned with the common interest of rebuilding a vibrant, walkable, Gulfside downtown with great energetic retail main streets around a core of small-lot, single-family residential neighborhoods nested in the very large old blocks arrayed along the bluff overlooking the Gulf.
In July, Harrison County adopted its new Comprehensive Plan and Sand Beach Master Plan. The county currently is under way with its ordinance revisions, 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.
The Times-Picayune, Aug. 12, 2008 -- In another failed start for a recovery program that has languished for two years, Louisiana officials decided on Aug. 11 to scrap a contract for doling out home-raising grants after they concluded two top bidders had conflicts of interest. The state now plans to run most of the program with in-house staff. Louisiana Recovery Authority Director Paul Rainwater convened a special contract review committee last week when he learned that IEM, a Baton Rouge risk management firm, helped the state apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the program's money. Rainwater said the other finalist, engineering consulting firm Camp, Dresser & McKee of Cambridge, Mass., hired the former state official who had coordinated the project from the beginning.
Both companies said there is no conflict, but Rainwater said appearances are enough to jeopardize the $750 million FEMA hazard mitigation program, the largest taxpayer-financed home elevation program in U.S. history. The state wants to use the FEMA grants to reimburse about 15,000 Road Home applicants for home-elevation costs that exceed what they can receive through the Road Home's elevation program.
The contract review panel decided to throw out the request for bids and have the state administer most of the program.
A June 2008 report penned by PolicyLink Director Kalima Rose, Program Associate Annie Clark and Senior Associate Dominique Duval-Diop, paints a mixed picture of New Orleans' recovery progress. "Filling the Gaps in Recovery: New Orleans Nonprofits Address Voids Left by Housing Recovery Programs" focuses on "a mosaic of community organizations -- from housing counseling, housing development, neighborhood associations, and volunteer-staffed rehab groups -- [which] have arisen or expanded in post-disaster New Orleans to help residents navigate the tortuous path to recovery."
The report finds that nonprofit organizations "have gutted over 5,000 flooded homes, rehabbed or built new nearly a thousand homes, facilitated financial support for residents rebuilding with insufficient resources, and supplied title help and Road Home appeals for hundreds of residents -- the largest collective effort to date in housing recovery. Services provided by these groups include: case management, volunteer coordination, referral services, construction management, financial assistance, legal assistance, and housing rehabilitation."
Along with the good news, however, the report includes a daunting list of challenges that renters, homeowners, and nonprofit organizations still face, including:
Contractor fraud and mismanagement;
Not enough money to rebuild;
Credit issues and foreclosure;
Increased financial vulnerability;
Funding for staff;
Poor communication between recovery groups.
The report concludes with policy recommendations for the Louisiana Recovery Authority and the New Orleans Office of Recovery Development Administration, asking them to:
Dedicate funds toward fair valuation of properties for grant calculations, funding construction management, and funding an insurance subsidy pool;
Give those in trailers more time to finish repairs;
Increase capacity of construction management groups;
Help high-credit-risk homeowners by guaranteeing loans.
The full report is posted online at www.policylink.org/threeyearslater/recoverygaps.pdf.
In other New Orleans news, the city is finalizing a downtown Mobility and Parking Study, a UNOP District 1 recommendation that will make recommendations for managing parking and expanding mobility options in the French Quarter, CBD and Marigny Triangle a priority. The study is being done in large part by the New York office of Nelson Nygaard.
The City Council unanimously passed City Charter Amendments presented by the District 1 UNOP steering committee, which will make the New Orleans Master Plan have the "force of law." It enjoys wide support from many neighborhood organizations, nonprofits and the development community, and will be put to a vote of the people in the Nov. 4 election. It would ensure that a consistent neighborhood public process is part of all future planning, that plans will be implemented through land-use regulation and that the city's capital outlay will support them. In other words, the intent is to create a transparent public process that will level the playing field and make development predictable.
The Times-Picayune, Aug. 12, 2008 -- Federal investigators collected documents on Aug. 11 from the shuttered New Orleans Affordable Homeownership Corp., the city-chartered and city-financed nonprofit that ran a home-remediation program in 2006 and 2007. The group of investigators appeared to be carrying out a subpoena issued last week as part of a federal inquiry that includes the FBI and Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The city nonprofit has been under intense scrutiny for the past several weeks, as news reports raised questions about whether its contractors billed taxpayers for work they didn't perform on blighted New Orleans homes. The remediation program, aimed at the poor and elderly, was touted as a salve to sagging neighborhoods by Mayor Ray Nagin in his 2007 budget address.
But some of the homes listed on NOAH work sheets were in fact gutted by volunteer groups, records show. Meanwhile, more than 100 of the 870 properties that the agency's contractors claim to have remediated have since been torn down. Neighbors have said some of the demolished homes were not cleaned up at all before they were razed, though taxpayers were billed for the service.
A federal grand jury subpoena issued last week allows investigators to collect documents related to NOAH's finances, its client files and records of payments to subcontractors, according to NOAH board member Bob Brown. Brown said he was served the official demand for records on Aug. 8.
City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields has said it would be "inappropriate" to say whether Nagin or anyone on his staff had been summoned by the federal grand jury or asked to provide documents to it. On Aug. 9, the Nagin administration released the findings of its own preliminary inquiry into the home-remediation program.
Overall, that review said city staffers were unable to verify 46 of the gutting and boarding jobs taxpayers paid for under the agency's home-remediation program. Those jobs involved 19 companies, including one firm owned by Nagin's brother-in-law and another outfit whose owner has had business partnerships with NOAH's former director, Stacey Jackson.
The value of the disputed work is $103,517, according to city records. Officials said they have sent letters to the 19 contractors and directed them to prove they did the work or reimburse the money. The Nagin administration has yet to answer questions seeking a more detailed understanding of how its preliminary inquiry was carried out.
Brief updates on Mississippi Gulf Coast communities' progress toward renewal can be e-mailed to Jason Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bookmark these Web sites to stay on top of rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast.
Center for Planning Excellence (La.)
The Clarion-Ledger (Miss.)
Congress for the New Urbanism
Governor’s Office of Recovery and Renewal (Miss.)
Katrina Cottage Housing
Mississippi Governors Commission
Mississippi Renewal Forum
New Urban Guild
New Urban News
NOLA.com (“Everything New Orleans”)
South Mississippi Sun Herald
Times Picayune (New Orleans)
Unified New Orleans Plan
Suggestions for additions to this list may be sent to Jason Miller, New Towns editor, at email@example.com.