Biloxi grapples with rule changes for Katrina victims

Published 7:46 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Hurricane Katrina victims trying to rebuild near their original homes should consider applying for setback variances instead of waiting on the city to streamline the process.

That’s because Biloxi will not hold a public hearing until Jan. 18 on a proposal to grant a blanket waiver for the setbacks.

“I was really led to believe that it was going to be a lot sooner,” said Councilman Bill Stallworth, who proposed the rule change. “I’m still hopeful that the attorney general’s opinion we requested will come in a lot sooner than that hearing.”

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Biloxi Councilman Bill Stallworth, who proposed the rule change, says he was led to believe that the hearing was going to be a lot sooner than January.

This year, the Legislature passed a law giving homeowners the right to rebuild even if city ordinances say the lot sizes are too small.

However, it does not directly address how close to property lines or streets the houses can sit. That’s an issue in East Biloxi, where many houses were closer to each other than current regulations allow.

Last month, Stallworth wrote a letter to Attorney General Jim Hood asking for guidance. The letter was sent three days after the council delayed a vote on Stallworth’s proposal and sent the issue to the Biloxi Planning Commission for a public hearing.

That hearing will not occur until more than two months after the council’s vote.

Vincent Creel, the city’s public affairs manager, said the administration of Mayor A.J. Holloway wanted more time to study the legal repercussions of a blanket waiver. Holloway and his staff have opposed the waiver.

“We want to do this right instead of right now,” Creel said. Biloxi, unlike Gulfport, has no grandfather clause for buildings destroyed by a natural disaster. Gulfport, which already allowed destroyed buildings to be rebuilt within one year, in July amended its ordinances to extend the time period.

“This notion that the city is telling people they can’t rebuild in East Biloxi or that setback requirements are holding up their progress is absurd,” Creel said. “It’s simply not true. The city of Biloxi has not told anyone that they couldn’t rebuild their home. To the contrary, our goal is to help people work the process to build back in a responsible manner.”