Bay residents protest zoning change

A proposed new zoning ordinance for Bay St. Louis has alarmed residents of the first block of Ulman Avenue, who are protesting plans to change their zoning designation from residential to commercial.

The change would bring the first block of Ulman in line with farther stretches of the street, which are zoned C-2, or light commercial, from Second Street to Dunbar Avenue. At present, the first block off the beach is zoned R-1, for single family homes, and in some places, R-2, for two-family.

Residents are bucking a City Hall proposal to make zoning uniform along the entire street. They pointed out at a public hearing this week that many of the homes are historic houses, and make up a quiet residential neighborhood.

Many of the homes in the neighborhood were rebuilt after being ruined or partially destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

“There has been money, effort, blood, sweat and tears to bring it back,” resident Bobbye Maggio told planning and zoning commissioners at the hearing.

Under the commercial designation, the first block of Ulman could turn from purely residential into an area that would allow a range of uses, including small grocery stores, restaurants, retail outlets, or other businesses.

In the past, there were small businesses along lower Ulman, but that was years ago.

“It’s where we live. It’s where we spent our money,” Maggio said. “Why would you take this block that is solid and turn it into zoning that is spotty?”

The block already includes Hotel Reed, a decrepit, defunct nursing home that has stood empty for years under out-of-town ownership. Neighborhood residents have complained repeatedly that the old building is a haven for bats, raccoons, rats, and vagrants.

Ulman resident Arthur Abercrombie said he and his wife bought their home on the block after losing a prior home in Cedar Point during Katrina. When he bought the Ulman Avenue house, he said, “it was junk,” but they painstakingly restored it.

“The reason we bought the place was because it was zoned residential,” he said at the hearing. “To rezone our block now is going to cause a lot of hurt to a lot of people.”

Councilwoman Wendy McDonald, who represents the area, said she understands the plight of the neighbors, but thinks there should be some type of zoning change allowing Hotel Reed to reopen as a hotel.

“I think the residents should stay R-1,” she said. “But I would like to find a solution so a boutique hotel, appropriate to the historic district, can operate.”

City Zoning Administrator Charlene Black said there is a path for the building owner to follow to renovate Hotel Reed, regardless of what is decided on the residential zoning. “They would have to come before the city and ask for a special exception,” she said.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will take up the zoning ordinance again when it meets on July 12, and is expected to make a recommendation to the City Council. The council is expected to consider that recommendation on July 20, and to adopt a new ordinance on Aug. 3.

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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