How High is Too High?

Immediately following the Tuesday, November 19, Gulfport City Council meeting, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) met again to discuss building within the Waterfront Redevelopment District (WRD).

On July 16, Mayor Sam Henderson submitted a “hybrid” redevelopment proposal for review to the CRA. Two topics were acknowledged: parking and the inevitability of two-story structures becoming the “norm” in the WRD. 

“We’ve had restrictions in place for a long time about how we can build and how big we can build,” said Henderson, during the CRA meeting “But we’ve got this interesting scenario now – we’ve got a lot of folks coming in with more money to build than they have in the past.

“So, I wanted to visit this before we end up going down the road where we potentially lose the character, the very thing that draws people to come to Gulfport,” continued Henderson. “We need to see if there’s any adjustments, any incentives, any changes we can make to give us a little better handle on how that development goes moving forward, that we’ve kind of reached a stage of popularity that might be a first in Gulfport’s 109-year history.”

Current code allows for a residential building the height of 30 feet and a commercial building the height of 45 feet. Currently, codes take into account properties located in a flood zone. These properties are allowed to build to the allowable height from the Base Flood Elevation (BFE). This can result in residential property heights of 40 feet and commercial property heights of 55 feet. 

The following was is the proposal: 

“Building height can be reduced to a maximum of two-habitable stories for both residential and commercial uses. A maximum height of 40 feet can be set to accommodate building in flood zones with a maximum of 3 stories. This would make all structures the same height.”

The proposal further explained:

“Heights would no longer be measured from the BFE in the WRA flood zones. Commercial buildings located in ‘A zone’ flood areas would be required to be dry-flood proofed if practical to do so. In ‘V zone’ flood areas or when impractical to dry floodproof in an ‘A zone,’ elevated commercial structures would be required to provide a pedestrian and commercial presence on first floor. This would be in the form of a commercial use. Incentives could be developed to encourage residential buildings to provide commercial and pedestrian use of a portion of the first floor.”

As for parking, “Parking is perceived as a problem,” stated the proposal. “While there is adequate parking throughout the WRA area, it is not located in the more heavily used blocks surrounding the intersection of Shore Boulevard and Beach Boulevard.” 

According to the proposal, currently there is no affordable piece of land available to build a parking garage within city code limits. 

If the proposal is approved, “commercial parking requirements would be eliminated for structures building with the defined building envelope. The establishments that will build within the envelope would only be required to provide parking, as practical to do so, in the rear of the structure to accommodate employees. This would help clear the on-street parking of owners and employees taking valuable spaces during peak hours.”  

The Community Development Department will begin drafting the applicable ordinance changes to the City of Gulfport Zoning Code, according to City Manager, Jim O’Reilly. Prior to any amendments, the proposal will need to be submitted to the city’s planning and zoning board. 

“The next CRA meeting will be scheduled when necessary to consider other items applicable to the WRD. Any future presentations and actions will be duly noticed and advertised prior to city council’s consideration,” assured O’Reilly. 

 

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