By Keith Burton - GCN
of modern, well-thought through zoning regulations applied uniformly
across the Coast are the chief reasons behind the haphazard and stunted
development here and is already threatening our future as a prosperous and
Decades of court cases have demonstrated that cities and towns have both a responsibility and a constitutional right to protect the public welfare by placing limits on the uses of private property.
Zoning provides a way to protect and improve our community’s development, your home, and business investment. Zoning can also provide an even playing field for everyone as the regulations should be written in a way that they apply to all people equally.
But that is not what we have here.
Harrison County has a very weak zoning plan and every city on the Coast has its own regulations, many of which are based upon out-of-date ideas and concepts of land use. But worse, they are inconsistently applied, and poorly enforced.
Almost everyone here has stories about how some people seem to get away with doing things on their property that are not normally tolerated, often as a result of who they know in their local government.
This is an intolerable situation that needs to end. Not to do so guarantees a rough ride for the Coast’s future.
What's at Stake
For developers of new industry and business, they want to know that their investments in property are secure.
Say a national restaurant chain is interested in building a multi-million dollar restaurant, but discovers that the zoning regulations would allow a small auto repair shop to be opened next door where there are no regulations to prevent the garage from becoming a sea of junk cars.
The national company could predict that its investment would not be secure, and go elsewhere.
Or this example, a deluxe office complex opens, but finds itself later surrounded by a cheap strip mall and massage parlors. This is the situation businesses looking at many areas of the Coast face when making a decision to locate here, and it adds to the haphazard and poor appearance of our area. It also diminishes land values and creates blight in our communities.
The same is true for Coast homeowners. You see it everywhere, fine homes next to trailer parks, or even worse, squalor. So much for that home’s value.
There have been successes regarding zoning on the Coast but they are few. Chief among them was Biloxi’s wisdom in setting up casino zoning regulations that controlled the placement and development of the city’s casinos. While there have been adjustments in the city’s casino zoning, reflecting the changes in the industry here, there can be no question that the city and the casino industry on the coast have been a success. Some of which can be directly attributed to zoning.
But more needs to be done. Is is a shame that patrons of the Coast's multi-million dollar casinos have to drive by pawn shops and nude magazine stores across from casino properties.
Reform in zoning regulations is a must if the Coast is to succeed as place people would want to live and make a future.
There needs to be a basic standard set of zoning regulations applied Coastwide that builders and developers, homeowners and businesses can count own when considering locating here. But right now, that doesn’t exist. The standard zoning regulations could then be fine-tuned for each community.
In addition, increasing demands for industrial and business development needs to fit within the needs of residential property owners, so that each benefits the other. This can only be accomplished through zoning regulations.
Leadership is Needed
The lack of a county-wide set of zoning regulations is a serious failure in political will and leadership on the Coast.
Politically, zoning issues are among the most difficult for politicians to handle as there are always those that say, “Don’t you tell me what to do with my property.”
But the reality is if adequate zoning doesn’t occur, your property’s value can be lost from most anybody who doesn’t see it your way.
There is little doubt that the Coast is already losing business and industry to areas that handle zoning better than we do. It is time our area’s leadership understands this and makes the commitment to address this issue for the future of all of us on the Coast.
It is also just as important that you support elected officials and economic development officials who commit to help make this important issue a reality.
Note: Keith Burton served four years as a Commissioner on the Biloxi Planning Commission 1993-1997.