Biloxi Controversy Over Housing Setbacks Continues

It may be up to the state Attorney General to decide whether thousands of Biloxians can rebuild homes, the same size and in the same place as those wiped out by Katrina. Tuesday the council tabled a resolution presented by Ward 2 Council member Bill Stallworth that would have allowed homeowners to build right back on the same spot, even if that means going against current codes on set backs.

Marlyn and Glory Fields believe their lot is large enough that city codes won't affect their design plans for rebuilding their Lee Street home. The couple says many of their East Biloxi neighbors aren't as fortunate.

"A lot of people are worried about the set backs," said Glory Fields. "If they're going to have enough space."

Some of those residents packed the Biloxi city council chambers on Tuesday.

"Everybody seems to be looking for a way to say 'No'," said Floyd Fortenberry. "It's time to vote and say "Yes.'"

Also there was Angela Bell who says she can't close on her SBA loan until she know what she can build on Brown Street.

"I'm following the rules," said Bell. "I'm doing everything that's being asked. All I ask is to let me put my home back where it was."

Ward 2's Bill Stallworth says allowing people to build to their pre-storm size and setbacks would speed up hurricane recovery, but some council members questioned the need for a blanket policy instead of going case by case.

George Lawrence. of Ward 1 offered "Maybe you can move the house. Most of these houses are gone anyway. So if you take the property and take the same size house and move it on that property then I don't see what the problem is."

Other council members say because of a state law, the decision may not be theirs to make.

"The state says that they don't care what size the lot is, if you had a house on it prior to Katrina you can put a house on it the same size now," said Ward 5 councilman Tom Wall. "We don't have any choice on that matter."

The council then asked its legal advisor his understanding of the state statute.

Attorney Michael Collins said "It may have meant footprint but what they said what square foot area. Unless that statute directs itself to setbacks specifically I don't think it overrules the cities ordinances in that regard. "

The council tabled the resolution that by the end of the meeting included an amendment by Bill Stallworth he says will clarify some points.

"If we don't allow them to build back them we have in essence created an adverse situation," said Stallworth.

The city council agreed to hold a public hearing to sort out some of the rebuilding questions. We'll let you know when that is scheduled.