Bay St. Louis officials are scrambling to complete a long-overdue zoning ordinance by June, or face the risk of repaying a $30,000 grant they already gave to a consultant who failed to complete the job to the city’s satisfaction.
Work on the ordinance has been underway for months. But city officials are unhappy with a draft prepared by the consulting firm, Slaughter and Associates, of Oxford.
“We didn’t like it,” Council President Doug Seal said of Slaughter’s work. “We trashed it.”
At present, old Bay St. Louis falls under current zoning laws. But officials say there is a critical need for a new ordinance and zoning maps that would also include include Wards 5 and 6, which were annexed after hurricane Katrina.
This week, Mayor Les Fillingame told the City Council his administration has taken control of writing the ordinance. It is now being directed by Charlene Black, of the city’s building department, with help from City Attorney Donald Rafferty and Sue Chamberlain, of Slaughter and Associates.
The city had received a $50,000 grant through the Mississippi Development Authority to have a new zoning plan written, to govern future development city-wide. The Slaughter firm was hired and has already been paid $30,000, Fillingame said.
Now, officials have learned that if a new ordinance is not completed by June, the grant could be de-obligated and would have to be repaid by the city.
“We have timelines we have to conform with in a timely manner, ” Rafferty told the council this week. “MDA is now telling us they could de-obligate that grant.”
That puts pressure on Black and the City Council. The administration’s plan is to have a revised zoning ordinance to the council by May 4. That would give council members roughly a week to digest the new law, expected to run from 140 to 160 pages.
A May 25 public hearing would then be scheduled, so the ordinance could be adopted by early June.
“This is on a fast track,” Rafferty told the council at a workshop this week.
“Fast track?” Seal replied incredulously. “We’ve been working on this since October.”
Seal told Rafferty to keep track of billable time he spends on the zoning ordinance, so the city can send a statement for attorney’s fees to the consultant.
“I would like to bill Mr. Slaughter for it,” Seal said. “We should not give him $30,000 and then $20,000 more for something that’s not right. I think we need to challenge him on that.”
Slaughter and Associates has handled planning, zoning, and annexation matters for numerous local governments. Mike Slaughter, the founder and president of the firm, could not be reached for comment this week.
Chamberlain, his local representative, said she had inherited the zoning ordinance last June from a previous associate who left the firm. Following that, Chamberlain said, medical problems slowed her performance on the job.
“I’ve been the slow one. It’s my fault,” Chamberlain said.
In a recent letter to the City Council, Black said she had inherited the zoning ordinance assignment at the end of March. The draft turned over by Slaughter and Associates on March 31 was not acceptable, she said.
“The ‘final’ draft that was received is still far from final,” Black wrote. “There is much work to be done” before a zoning plan and map can be updated and accepted by the City Council, she added.
Chamberlain said she is now working with Black to revise the ordinance. But the City Council president is tired of waiting.
“We cannot adopt what is not right,” Seal said. “We’ve been working with those people so long, and they have not produced.”
BY: J.R. Welsh
The Sea Coast Echo