Beatline/Pineville development project moves forward towards public hearing
By Lindy Sholes
A mixed-use development that will cover 118 acres of property flanked by parts of Beatline and Pineville Roads is one step closer to reality after the Long Beach Planning and Development Commission approved in a 5-2 vote the tentative plans submitted by developer Charlie Gant, of Long Beach Holdings, LLC.
The decision was met with discord at an August 27 public hearing, where several nearby residents came to voice concerns over effects the potential development may have on flooding and traffic problems and the rezoning request to go forward. Approval to change the current residential zoning in that area to Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning would allow the developer to build homes with zero lot lines, so residents are also concerned about the quality of homes that can be built in such close proximity.
This is the first of many steps that must be approved for the project to go forward. The decision was then brought before the Board of Aldermen at their September 1, meeting, and was approved and will go forward to another public hearing. If it continues from there, studies will begin to determine how to best continue with the project.
“I support the project if I can find out where the water is going to exit the development,” said Pat Patterson of the Dynsmore neighborhood, the only person who spoke out in support of the project out of the fourteen who addressed the Commissioners.
Lela Weems, of Mockingbird Drive, voiced concerns over flooding and the lack of green space represented on the tentative plot provided.
“If there are no ballparks, no amenities, tennis courts, pools or whatever, I want to know where the kids are going to play,” she asked. “If you have 350 houses and they’re on these very small lots without yards to play in, where will they play? In the street? That’s a safety issue.”
Gant will be required to put sidewalks into the neighborhood, in which he said the price point for homes will range from $225,000 to $450,000. In an understanding that this project may put a strain on the already narrow Pineville Road, Gant has volunteered to widen the part of Pineville that runs alongside the development at his own expense. He also agreed that he would be willing to sacrifice some of the planned lots to put in retention ponds if the engineers who study the impacts deem it necessary.
The residents nearby say they think it’s necessary, as that area is already prone to flooding when there is a heavy rain. Jake Heinrichs, whose property backs up to the proposed area for development, said he is afraid that any water displaced from the new construction will flood his own home.
“If I get one more inch of water, I’m flooded in my home,” he said. “I’ve got pictures to show the last storm, and in that area there are pockets of water that never drain out.”
When the engineers study the impact the development will have, flooding is one of the things taken into consideration. Commissioners suggested that it is possible the new development may help the current flooding issues.
Scott St. John, counsel for Doug St. John of Mockingbird Court, stated concerns that changing the zoning will set a new precedent for the city.
“There is no housing demand in this area that would justify high density zoning,” he said. “I understand your narrow focus, but when codes are set up, very smart people spent a lot of time thinking about that. You have to be very, very careful about changing them.”
Gant says that his company has done studies to justify that there is a market for such homes in the area.
“I’m not a tract builder,” he said. “All the subdivisions I’ve put in this town, in Gulfport, in Biloxi speak for themselves.”
Approval of the PUD zoning will allow Gant to build more of the smaller, cottage-style homes like those that can be found near the downtown area. He said these kinds of homes are usually very easy to sell and are appealing to senior families who don’t want to keep up a big yard. Other examples of his work can be seen in neighborhoods like Sea Oaks and Oak Gardens.
Gant said he plans to build the subdivision in three phases, spanning a building time of five to eight years.
In addressing those concerned that changing the zoning will set a new precedent for what is acceptable in the city, Commission Advisor Bill Hessell said, “If the zoning change meets the burden of the code and [the Commissioners] feel it does, then you change the zoning. That doesn’t mean the next person who comes along and wants a zoning change is going to have to meet the same burdens…Every case stands on its own merits. Just because you do one, you can deny the next.”
Hessell explained that requests are approved by the Planning and Development Commission, then go to the Board of Aldermen; and every request is studied thoroughly by a group of professionals and passes a series of rigorous steps, including impact studies by engineers, in order to come to fruition.
The Commissioners have met multiple times to discuss Gant’s request, and, based on his efforts to meet their demands for approval, the zoning change request was granted, moving the project forward to the next step in the process.
The City received several letters of opposition regarding accepting plans for the development. Minutes from the meeting, including letters and photos sent, plots submitted, and votes taken can be found on the City website at www.cityoflongbeachms.org. The meetings are also livestreamed on Facebook.