Gulfport City Council has officially vacated the right-of-way for three parcels along what is known as Beach Drive. The second reading of the ordinance and final vote took place Nov. 15.
The vote was 3-2, same as with the first reading. April Thanos maintained that the land should remain with the city, and Paul Ray expressed concern about the process while continuing to prefer a citizen referendum to decide.
Individual votes were taken on three separate parcels. More than an hour of public comment preceded the first vote, with neither side saying much that was different from the first reading or the Planning and Zoning Board hearing before that. Audio and video of the entire proceeding can be found on the city’s website.
Beach Drive is on the eastern edge of Gulfport at Clam Bayou. It was established about a century ago and is shown on the city’s 1925 plat map, according to officials. But it has never been used as a road and remains an undeveloped 50-foot-wide right-of-way. Current city leaders have made it clear that they never want it to become a road.
Council included a few conditions brought forth by the Planning and Zoning Board at its Oct. 5 meeting in their motions to approve the applications. Those stipulations include a hold harmless/indemnity agreement between the city and the recipients of the vacated property, as well as a 10-foot utility easement over existing water and sewer lines. The shoreline will remain a living shoreline with the uplands being under a restrictive covenant that prohibits any future development.
During the public hearing, numerous people cited safety concerns that they feel will arise from continued public access. It was also argued that there is nothing there for the public to have access to given the extremely muddy conditions and the mangroves that populate the area.
The potential negative effect to the city’s comprehensive plan from this action was cited, with several people arguing on both sides of that issue, depending upon whether they were for or against the right-of-way vacation. In addition to the attorney who spoke as an official representative of one of the applicants, at least three people identified themselves as attorneys when addressing the council, regardless of whether they had a connection to any of the applicants.
Mayor Sam Henderson complimented the audience members for maintaining a civil tone during the public hearing, saying it was much better than the previous council meeting and P&Z meeting, which became bogged down with personal attacks at times.