Dunbar parking plan faces criticism

Amid applause from the audience, members of the Bay St. Louis City Council threw cold water Monday on a city administration plan to make part of Dunbar Avenue a one-way street and build parking spaces that critics said would benefit a well-connected architectural firm that holds city contracts.

“I don’t care what we do with the road, but I don’t want to build somebody’s parking spaces,” Councilman Joey Boudin said during a long workshop discussion of the project to one-lane the Dunbar Avenue cut-through from Main Street toward St. Francis Street. Traffic on the short stretch of Dunbar has historically run two ways.

The intersection is part of the federally-funded downtown streetscapes project, being designed by Unabridged Architecture and Neel-Schaffer Engineering. Allison and John Anderson, owners of the architectural firm, also own a triangle of property at Main, St. Francis and Dunbar, and plan to build an office and apartment on the land.

Mayor Les Fillingame, Neel-Schaffer and Unabridged Architecture had been working on plans for the intersection for about a year. Until the City Council intervened, they had planned to use extra space created by closing one of the lanes on Dunbar as space for seven or eight parking spaces.

Fillingame said the new parking would be needed when the intersection began to attract new businesses, and could also be used for a visitors’ kiosk.

But the public immediately took note of the possibility that Allison Anderson – who recently angered Depot District merchants by taking away some of their critical parking spaces with another of her streetscape designs – stood to benefit from the new parking to be constructed with tax dollars.

Anderson has denied being involved with the Dunbar plan, and Fillingame said she was not part of discussions over the project. The City Council approved the overall downtown streetscapes in concept, but not in minute detail, about a year ago. Then last week, council members and the public were shocked when bulldozers arrived and tore up the Dunbar cutoff leading from St. Francis to Main.

The result was immediate skepticism among the public and surprise among the city’s seven council members.

“I had no idea they were doing all that on that triangle,” Councilman-at-Large Bill Taylor said Tuesday.

Until the street demolition began, “the whole council missed that going to a one-way street,” Councilman Doug Seal said at the workshop. “Change is good, but change for the sake of change … it looks bad on the surface.”

“It seems like we’re struggling to try and find a way to spend all this federal money,” Boudin said.

“I don’t know where this came from,” said businessman J.E. Loiacano, whose family has owned property around the intersection for 70 years. “If I could build a building and get the city to build my parking, that’s a really good deal.”

The response at Monday’s meeting seemed to stun Neel-Schaffer engineer Michael Moore, who was presenting a Power Point presentation on the project before the council. The presentation consisted of a small, cramped map that could barely be seen on the screen by the audience.

“I did not design it,” Moore said at one point.

Local businessman Jeffery Harding pointed out that if the Dunbar cut-through is closed from St. Francis to Main Street, large trucks would not be able to make the tight left turn off St. Francis directly onto Main.

“Can you make that turn with a truck, or just a Prius?” he said.

The City Council had tentatively planned to take up the Dunbar issue again when they met in formal session Tuesday night. But it appeared late Monday that the one-way plan, as well as the new parking spots, were headed for a dead-end, so far as council members were concerned.

“It might be our best option to go back to two lanes,” Fillingame said.

“Would it be possible for us to have a couple of other drawings and let’s talk about it, and have the contractor hold off for now?” Moore said.

On Tuesday, heavy equipment on the Dunbar site sat idle and no workers appeared.

‘My take is, we’re going back to two-way,” Taylor said.

J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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