City attorney Gerald Blessey presented a vision and a plan for the waterfront Thursday with cafes, boardwalks and design standards that would give the beach and Back Bay a cohesive look that evokes Old Biloxi.
The Biloxi Planning Commission unanimously approved the four overlay districts — Point Cadet, Back Bay, Small Craft Harbor and West Biloxi Beach and Boardwalk — that stretch from DeBuys Road all the way down the beach around Point Cadet and along Back Bay to the Interstate 110 bridge.
The commissioners also were unanimous in their approval of the waterfront plan that would require developers to maintain public access to the water and other standards.
The requirements for commercial development:
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▪ A minimum 25-foot, no-build setback from the water, with no fencing in that space
▪ A minimum 12-foot side-yard setback to encourage pedestrian access to the shoreline and water
▪ No laser lights
▪ Only underground utilities
▪ No parking adjacent to the 25-foot setback
Guidelines that would be encouraged but not required for waterfront development:
▪ Access by boats
▪ Outdoor cafés and other areas facing the water or on the water’s edge
▪ Views of commercial seafood operations such as oyster shucking, fish cleaning and boat repair
▪ Native landscaping
▪ Light fixtures designed for minimal light pollution
Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich asked for a plan to give the waterfront the iconic Old Biloxi look, Blessey said, and Blessey’s office and architect Walter Bolton put together a plan to rejuvenate the waterfront.
Bolton said they combined designs from Boston, New Orleans, Seattle, Baltimore and other waterfronts to come up with the plan for Biloxi. He wants to see the waterfront opened up again, but admits it will be hard in the casinos and industrial areas.
“The construction of piers and decks to give the public access to the water edge is encouraged,” according to the plan, which shows an example of a wharf and marketplace built out over the water.
Blessey said pictures of Biloxi show piers “all up and down the front beach.”
But pictures also will show the piers destroyed by every major storm and some more minor storms to hit South Mississippi. Development along the beach has been slow to return since Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago, given the high cost of insuring and elevating the structures, which could make the plans to build over water uneconomical and unfeasible.
Jonathan Dyal, attorney for Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, was at the Planning Commission meeting and objected to the plan. He said the 25-foot setback interferes with development on public trust tidelands.
The waterfront plan now goes to the City Council for a vote.