Un-Paved With Good Intentions?

A familiar cut-through from Dunbar Avenue to Main Street in Bay St. Louis disappeared this week, among speculation by some that the project may have been designed to benefit the owners of an architectural firm working for the city.

But city officials and the architects themselves say that isn’t the case, and that the changes are being made for safety’s sake. Mayor Les Fillingame said the work is part of the city’s $2.9 million downtown “Streetscapes” project.

The issue involves a 60-foot-long stretch of Dunbar Avenue that branches off to the left and cuts through to Main Street at the intersection of Dunbar, Main and St. Francis Street, near the former Loiacano’s Gym. The cut-through passes behind a triangular piece of land that fronts on St. Francis and belongs to architects Allison and John Anderson.

The Andersons’ firm, Unabridged Architecture, has the design contract for the Streetscapes project.

Crews arrived this week with bulldozers and ripped up the paving from the cut-through. City officials said the small, two-way cut-through will be turned into a one-way street leading from Main Street back to Dunbar.

That will eliminate the need for half the current street. The newly available space will likely be used for eight new parking spaces behind the Anderson’s land, where the couple plans to build an office and apartment.

Allison Anderson said yesterday that the decision to convert the cut-through to one-way from Main to Dunbar was made because it was dangerous for drivers to turn left onto the cut-through when traveling toward Main from U.S. 90.

“There have been a number of complaints at the City Council about the safety of that,” she said.

Fillingame said Allison Anderson played no role in deciding to add the new parking, and that a final decision on the parking spaces has yet to be made. The new design was the idea of Neel-Schaffer, the city’s project engineers, he said.

“Allison was very adamant about staying out of that,” he said. “That’s a Neel-Schaffer thing.”

Allison Anderson said she and her husband are keenly aware that the new parking arrangement may arouse public speculation. “We’re very concerned about the potential for conflict of interest,” she said.

She also said Unabridged Architecture will start building its new office soon, and will provide its own seven parking spaces in front of the new building when it is constructed on St. Francis Street.

“That’s what we’re required to have. It’s not like the city is building my parking for me,” she said.

The Andersons’ project will consist of a 2,172 square-foot office and an apartment with 1,375 square feet. “We owned this property long before we were hired by the city to do this work,” she said, adding that they disclosed the ownership to the city before getting the Streetscape contract.

The area lies in Councilwoman Wendy McDonald’s Ward 2. McDonald said the parking will be valuable as that part of town recovers and grows. “That’s a viable commercial area,” she said.

Fillingame said the issue will be discussed at Monday night’s City Council workshop. “We will debate it,” he said. “We’ll have an intensive Power Point on the project.”

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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