BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi stepped across a long standing line of where casino development is allowed on Back Bay. After much debate involving both supporters and opponents the council voted five to two to rezone about 19 acres, mostly west of Interstate 110, as waterfront. That's significant because gaming is allowed within waterfront zoning, but the casino controversy is likely just getting starting.
Property owners said the boarded up houses on Bay Shore Drive reflect how new flood elevation requirements are making it too expensive for them to live in this neighborhood.
"You're going to have to build back to 20 feet elevation," said property owner August Parker. "No houses are grandfathered in, including mine. Insurance is going to skyrocket out of sight."
John Holland said to build a house "it would cost me half a million dollars. Then it would cost me between $35,000 and $55,000 a year for insurance and for taxes on it."
Property owners said no one will buy their houses as residential property because of the expense, so their only hope is to try to sell out to a casino. However, some Biloxi residents pointed out the I-110 bridge is the Mississippi Gaming Commission's dividing line for cutting off gaming sites on Back Bay, and the new waterfront property is on the opposite side of the line.
"Once you move past that dividing line, the question is going to be for anybody wanting to build, where will you stop?" asked resident Jim Compton.
The Biloxi City Council voted for the waterfront zoning based on changes to the neighborhood and the need. However, members recognized in the end it's not their call on whether or not a casino gets built.
Councilman Kenny Glavan said, "The gaming commission would have the ultimate decision on if this was good for gaming and if the project was viable and significant. So there is still a lot of scrutiny for any project that tries to go into this site."
"There's no sense fighting the gaming commission again. We've tried this two or three times," said Councilman George Lawrence. "They set the lines. They set the rules. Not us. So there's no sense in sending anything against them once again."
WLOX spoke to Mississippi Gaming Commissioner John Hairston who sent us the following statement:
"Current regulations restrict legal gaming sites south of the Bay to east of the center line of I-110. There is ample land along the bay east of I-110 where the taxpayers of Biloxi and Mississippi have developed roads and infrastructure," said Hairston. "It would be practical to develop that available area before reopening regulations to create more sites, especially if newly proposed sites are potentially disruptive to mature neighborhoods. That said, until MGC has an application for a site, I have no opinion on any rumored proposal. MGC supports meaningful additional gaming construction within statutory, regulatory compliance and municipal zoning ordinances."