Coast Leaders Study Smart Growth

First the casinos sparked a building boom, now dozens of condominium projects promise to alter the landscape and perhaps affect the quality of life in South Mississippi.

Government and community leaders are talking about how best to manage those growing pains.

Construction cranes are the most obvious evidence of the coast's latest development boom. But is that "smart growth "? That's what hundreds of government and private industry leaders are discussing at a coastal development convention.

"To make sure that when we get to 2025, that what's here is what we want to be here. We have to start making decisions today. We can't wait a month or two months or ten years," said DMR executive director, Dr. William Walker.

The former governor of Maryland is sharing what his state learned. Parris Glendening now directs the "Smart Growth Leadership Institute ". It's his first visit to South Mississippi.

"I see number one a great deal of beauty that ought to be protected. I see extraordinary potential and some real results. I think the impact of the new buildings, including casinos, appears to be very, very positive. But I also saw a lot of areas very rundown," he explained.

Leaders of local government are among those who must try and strike a balance between development and environment. Quality of life is among the main reasons people choose to live in Ocean Springs. But along with that issue, leaders must also consider a project's impact on the city's budget.

John Gill represents Ward 1 on the board of aldermen.

"We need to make sure that the city's sales tax base increases. Because that takes the burden of ad volurem taxes off the residents, the more sales tax you collect," said Gill.

Leaders say difficult decision making on issues like land use and zoning controls will help insure the continued beauty of the area, a quality that attracted such growth in the first place.

Attendance at the DMR's annual "smart growth" convention shows the growing interest in the issue. Six years ago, the first smart growth conference attracted just 25 people. More than 450 are attending this year's convention.