Bay revises ‘streetscape’ plans after public outcry

A list of city projects, including a plan to one-lane a portion of Dunbar Avenue, died this week when the Bay St. Louis City Council took out an axe and went to work amid growing disenchantment over streetscape designs.

Citizens have been complaining that the designs, while certainly nature-friendly, are a bit much, and could eventually be harmful to struggling small businesses.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to either kill or diminish four controversial projects. All were part of Depot District and downtown streetscape revisions designed by the city’s contract architect, Allison Anderson, and its engineering firm, Neel-Schaffer.

Then on Thursday, Mayor Les Fillingame met again with Depot District merchants who were angered because of a recent order that would have seen a permanent green space constructed directly in front of C.J.’s Food Market on Blaize Avenue. The space is currently used for customer parking.

The merchants have been battling for weeks to have some of their parking spaces, which disappeared in Anderson’s depot streetscape design, restored in front of their businesses.

The green space planned in front of the grocery has now been abandoned, Fillingame told the merchants. “That’s the end of the green space,” he said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council passed four motions made by Councilmen Bill Taylor. One decreed that the city administration act to restore parking spaces taken away from the depot merchants, “per request of business owners.” Another ordered that a plan to one-way a portion of Dunbar Avenue at Main Street be rescinded.

Converting that stretch of street from two lanes to one would have accommodated eight new parking spaces, to be built at public expense. The spaces would have been adjacent to land owned by Anderson and her husband, where they plan to construct a new office building.

Another streetscape plan that died at council hands was a dirt mound to be built across Blaize Avenue from the Depot District businesses. The proposal was to build a “Monkey Hill”-type play area for children, modeled on the Monkey Hill at Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

Business people protested that the Monkey Hill site is located at the heart of busy intersections, is not far from the CSX Railroad tracks, and lies across the street from a bar – perhaps not the ideal place for children to be rolling down hills.

Fillingame told the merchants Thursday that Monkey Hill is no more. “That will all be left flat,” he said.

Finally, the council agreed to remove proposed “rain gardens” that were planned for the west side of Baize Avenue in front of the train depot. That would have increased green space, but again, potential parking would be lost. Fillingame said only a couple of small rain garden areas will now be created.

In making his motions, Taylor said the fervor to rebuild from Hurricane Katrina in a “green” mode seems to had caused overzealousness.

“We’ve got an abundance of trees that are going to be growing on top of each other and under sidewalks,” he said.

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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