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Milestones Coming Up in Biloxi’s Long-term Recovery Effort

From: City of Biloxi - Vincent Creel     Filed 7/14/06 GCN   Updated 7/17/06

Biloxi reaches two significant milestones in the city’s Hurricane Katrina recovery this week, a month-and-half shy of the first anniversary of the catastrophic storm.

And Mayor A.J. Holloway says the two milestones – release of the formal report of the Reviving the Renaissance initiative and the arrival of the first checks in the state-administered Homeowners Grant Program – are expected to spark a surge in building permits for new homes or total rebuilds over the next few months and renewed interest in land.

As homeowners begin receiving the first of the 16,000 checks in the federally-funded $3.3 billion recovery initiative, Holloway is reminding residents of oft-repeated advice in dealing with construction issues: Beware of transient contractors and other individuals who typically set up temporary shop in the aftermath of storms.

Says Holloway: “Before you sign any contract or allow anyone to perform any repair work on your property, you should ask to see the person’s City of Biloxi license, which allows them to do business in this city. Make sure that the contractor obtains a building permit before beginning construction or repairs.

“By all means, never pay any money in advance for repair work, and do not pay until the work has been reviewed and approved by city inspectors. If you have any doubts or questions about any of these issues, contact the city building division, either by e-mail at building@biloxi.ms.us or by phone at 435-6270.”

Permitting: Numbers, numbers, numbers

In the 10 months since Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29, more than 122 permits for new homes have been issued in Biloxi, but that figure tells only a portion of the overall story of Biloxi’s massive recovery. Between Sept. 1, 2005 and June 30, 2006, the Community Development Department has issued nearly 12,000 construction and storm-related permits overall, representing an estimated $475 million in construction.

The city’s Development Review Committee -- a one-stop panel that helps developers address such issues as traffic, engineering, drainage and life-safety regulations -- has been reviewing a host of new and ongoing proposals and storm-related construction projects. Among the proposals in the development pipeline pre- and post-storm: 26 condominium projects representing more than $3 billion in construction and 10,000 proposed condo units; review and approval of 21 residential subdivisions representing more than 460 lots for single family homes; successfully overseeing repair work and the re-openings of five casino resorts; and continuing to monitor construction of two others looking to open within several weeks.

The Community Development staff also has worked to provide timely inspections – within two working days, in most cases – to help keep residential and commercial work on track.

Let the revival begin

Expected to spur renewed interest among property owners and would-be developers is next week’s unveiling of the Reviving the Renaissance report.

The initiative represents the work of 200 Biloxians who either came forward or were sought out by the mayor and City Council members to discuss such quality of life factors as affordable housing, transportation, public education, historic preservation, tourism and seafood- and marine-related issues.

The group was tasked by Holloway in February to pore through available information and recommend options for “reviving the renaissance that Biloxi was enjoying in the decade or so before Katrina.”

Holloway and others have admitted that the biggest challenge in the myriad challenges of the recovery effort is providing options for affordable housing in a city where Katrina claimed 6,000 homes and businesses, as many as 3,500 to 4,000 in east Biloxi alone.

“My charge to this committee was to present a realistic plan, with a realistic price tag and a realistic timeline,” Holloway said. “We face some tough issues, but nothing that we can’t resolve in a responsible manner. We’ve had access to the opinions of a host of urban planners and designers, and we turned to our local residents to help craft a workable plan and one that best suits our city.”

Ramping up for the increase

The city, meantime, is working to be in a position to oversee the massive growth in an orderly fashion. Said Holloway, “We’ve begun the process to hire five additional inspectors – essentially doubling the size of the staff of city inspectors who will be responsible for overseeing the construction. Additionally, a floodplain manager is in place to help answer any questions regarding construction in a flood-prone area of the city.

“Our role in city government is to help set the table for the future. In the next few weeks and months, we’ll see people making decisions on how they’ll be proceeding from here. The future is almost here.”

One year in the making

This week’s arrival of the city’s Storm & Flood Preparedness guide reminds residents that we’re still in the midst of a hurricane season that has already spawned one storm.

Stark reminders of the dangers of storms and flooding will be more pervasive and frequent with the approaching first anniversary of Katrina.

On Aug. 17, the 37th anniversary of Hurricane Camille, the city and Cable One will televise “A Lady Called Camille,” bringing down the curtain on an annual program that had become one of the city’s most successful tools in communicating to the public the dangers of storms and flooding.

Meanwhile, plans continue for Aug. 29 observances. An 8 a.m. city-organized memorial observance is being planned for the Town Green, and free screenings of “Katrina & Biloxi: A Story of Resolve and Resilience” will be playing at the Saenger Theater hourly throughout the day.

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