Cottage Square a model neighborhood for Gulf Coast

Published 10:19 pm Monday, March 23, 2009

As Gulf Coast cities deliberate over the future placement of Mississippi cottages, one city has created a success story by allowing the cottages to function as a neighborhood of affordable homes.

Developed by Mississippi architects who participated in the Mississippi Renewal Forum after Hurricane Katrina, Cottage Square, in the heart of Ocean Springs, has slowly been transformed into a model neighborhood. It’s the first mixed-use development of Mississippi cottage-style structures on the Gulf Coast.

Six of Cottage Square’s eight cottages, produced by the state’s allotment of FEMA funds for alternative emergency housing, are now occupied.

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Many South Mississippi cities are struggling with whether to allow hurricane-relief cottages as permanent fixtures, but Ocean Springs has found a way to transform them into a model mixed-use neighborhood of affordable housing and office space.

The original Katrina cottage has gone through changes and now is being adapted by New Urbanists trying to meet the need for small, quickly erected dwellings.

The different designs are taking on the role of water-resistant dwellings and affordable homes that can be cleaned up and reinhabited after a flood.

The new cottage designs are outgrowths of the Katrina Cottage effort begun during the Mississippi Renewal Forum immediately after the storm in 2005.

Architect Bruce Tolar said affordable housing is not readily available along the coast, especially in Ocean Springs.

“This is not the end result but part of the solution,” said Tolar. “There are teachers, firemen and people in the construction business living here making it a real neighborhood with walkways, street lighting fixtures, picket fencing and people. This neighborhood is to set the example on how to recover and rebuild on the coast.”

There are also four commercial cottages on the site being used as offices and a beauty salon.

Developers said two small studios will be rented to a graphic designer and a larger single-room cottage will be rented as office space within 30 to 60 days.

“Communities have slowly and reluctantly changed their rules to allow these cottages as permanent dwellings,” said Ben Brown of PlaceMakers LLC. “Making these cottages permanent dwellings has been the whole idea behind Katrina cottages in the first place.”

Developers said there is a reluctance in cities to change their rules and allow the cottages in locations other than trailer parks.

“The state, private developers and nonprofits are eager to make these cottages work but are still butting up against local officials who’re intimidated by a few outspoken citizens who insist on seeing these well-designed cottages as little more than the FEMA trailers they successfully replaced. Many refuse to even drive over to Ocean Springs to see the Square,” said Brown.

Some 100,000 Mississippians were made homeless by Katrina with some families finding new homes.

March 1 was originally the deadline when Katrina victims had to leave the temporary housing provided by FEMA. The agency has extended the deadline until June 1. This is the 10th housing extension since FEMA began providing housing for Katrina victims.

The cottages come in 400-square-foot park models and larger two- and three-bedroom units.

Cottage Square currently has only one-bedroom residential units on the site.

“I love living here,” said Julie Herrera, one of the new residents at Cottage Square.

“It is a good neighborhood and very unique. I like it because it is quiet, clean and affordable.”