Sunday, May 14, 2006

Coastal Community Watch

August 5
The Charrette

Some good news!

The city of Waveland hosted a series of meetings during the last week of June, bringing together residents, business owners, officials and some of the top planners and architects in the country. The intensive brain-storming sessions are called "charrettes" and their goal is to set the tone for future development in the city. Here's a quote from a Sun Herald article by Ryan Lafontaine:"Charrettes are meant to illuminate the possibilities of what can happen," said Brian Sanderson, deputy director of the Governor's Office of Recovery, which is working with local governments to identify potential funding sources. Sanderson said the meetings are intended to spark public discourse and create guidelines that will steer future building in Waveland. "Many of these ideas may not come to fruition for years and some may never happen," he said. "But, it's a way for the citizens and the local governments to set up a framework that will guide development."The final presentation of the Waveland charrette will be available soon, but meantime here's a peek at a few of the designs that came out of the meetings. :
a proposal for a market on Coleman Ave.

Who pays for all this? Most of it would be funded by savvy developers and business owners who see that preserving our community character will be a tremedous economic asset. Right now, developers from around the world are eyeing the Hancock coast, sizing it up for the future - lots of them with proven track records for building environmenally sound, family- oriented projects.

We need development and we desperately need tax dollars. Our choice now is what type of development we want to support. We can grow into a souless Destin or Gulfshores or we can be the gem of the Gulf, capitalizing on our authentic charm and heritage. Either vision is possible.

What you can do
If you don't make your voice heard now, that choice is left in the hands of a few officials. They need your input. You can start by e-mailing a short note of support and thanks to the Waveland city office. That e-mail address is mayorsoffice@mchsi.com

Thanks to all the members of the Governor's Commission who worked so hard for the citizens of Waveland and kudos to the officials and members of the community who participated.

The Bay-Waveland School Issue

Facts of the Matter

There is a parcel of property for sale on the corner of St. Charles and Old Spanish Trail in Bay St. Louis. It’s approximately 44 acres in size. This is one of the only large parcels of property in the south end of Hancock County that didn’t flood during Katrina.

A developer named Bill Shanks came up with a plan for a high quality residential development on this property. He approached Bay St. Louis city officials and community leaders with a proposal that sounded both sensitive and sensible. He received encouragement. While the city is in dire need of taxes, it doesn’t want to “sell out” to inappropriate developments. This particular situation looked like a “win-win” for both the community and the developer. He was proceeding with plans to purchase the property.

Meanwhile, three of the schools in the Bay system were damaged in the storm: North Bay Elementary, Second Street and Bay High. These buildings were covered by insurance, but according to the school board, the settlements have fallen short of what it will take to repair the buildings.

FEMA apparently will not offer funds to repair buildings more than 50% damaged. Supposedly, North Bay’s already been “condemned,” while assessments are still being made on Bay High and 2nd Street. The hitch to get the new schools? The location has to be a sizeable parcel of land that did not flood during Katrina.

The only parcel that meets FEMA’s astonishing requirements is the property on the corner of Old Spanish Trail and St. Charles. The school board is considering an eminent domain of the property. The developer has been stopped in his tracks until the matter is settled.
The school board faces some hard decisions. Can the current school buildings be repaired? If so, where are the funds going to come from? Their other option is to abide by FEMA’s guidelines and proceed with building new schools in an unpopular location.

Bay St. Louis officials are concerned about losing a major, high-quality development and the tax revenue it would generate. In addition, many of their constituents in the neighborhood are protesting. Yet the city council has no authority in this matter – the school board’s ruling on where to build the new schools will be final.

ALL parties agree on one thing: Education of our children and redevelopment of our towns are top priorities. The question is how we can best use our extremely limited resources of both money and energy.

Questions from our membership - below is a list of FAQs we've been receiving - we're submitting them to the School Board for their consideration.

Why hasn’t conventional insurance covered the repairs on the current sites? If the cost of the repairs is that much more than the settlements, is the school board considering the route of many residents and filing suit against the insurance companies?

Many of our members wonder who performed the evaluations on the current buildings and if they are finalized.

If the buildings are actually “condemned,” why are plans being made to reuse them for other purposes (for instance, Bay High would serve as a site for school district offices and the alternative school)? Who would pay for repairs then?

Why are schools in other areas being allowed to rebuild on current sites? For instance, one member pointed out that Pass High School flooded more than Bay High, yet FEMA’s allowing the buildings to be repaired and reused. Does FEMA have different standards for Hancock and Harrison counties? If so, why?

If the property in question is used for the new schools, one of the main concerns of local residents is the traffic issue. The proposed site has no easy outlet to Hwy. 90. Which roads would have to be four-laned to accommodate the increased traffic?

Other residents are disturbed about the eminent domain aspect. Can the property owner be forced to accept less money than the sale he would have made privately? If so, could the issue be taken to court by the property owner, taking up more time and money?

There are also concerns about the credibility of FEMA: Can we be certain they’ll follow through and not leave the locals picking up the tab for new schools? Would they cover other costs involved (for instance, widening of the roads, etc.)?

Why is FEMA insisting on property that didn’t flood in Katrina? According to this paranoid guideline, about one square mile of south Hancock County is “safe.” Let’s face it: If FEMA makes Katrina the new storm standard, our community will be hamstrung in all sorts of ways.
According to community leaders we’ve spoken with, the best case scenario would be if FEMA would agree to fund rebuilding the schools on their current sites. Another option would be for FEMA to relax their elevation demands so a less contentious location could be chosen.

What can you do?

You can inform yourself and participate in the process. Start going to school board meetings. If you’d like a spot on the agenda, call Ms. Favre at 467.4459. You’ll be asked to fill out a form.

As with all our local governing bodies, the school board is open and eager for constructive input and ideas. Bring an open mind and a positive attitude.

The determination to work together has been our saving grace while our community has dealt with the worst natural disaster in American history. We have a right to be proud. We work hard, we don’t whine, we help our neighbors. Together, we can find the best solution to any problem.

The Crew at Coastal Community Watch

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