The century old Great Southern Golf Club is at the center of a heated zoning debate. The golf course's board of directors wants a zoning change. However, nearby property owners fear that would open a pandora's box that could run their neighborhood.
The Great Southern Golf Club is a business that's been given permission to operate in a single family residential community. Late Thursday, Great Southern board members asked the Gulfport Planning Commission to rezone the southside of their property. That way, the golf course would be in a business district.
"We're operating a business, and it's been operated as a business since 1908, on a piece of residential property," Great Southern spokesman Jimmy Haynes explained. "And we feel it's time for this error to be corrected."
Haynes and the Great Southern Golf Course board of directors asked Gulfport to rezone their 59 acres south of the railroad tracks, so the golf course could legally operate there.
"I feel that if anything encroached on this being a golf course, that it would not stand the approval of the stockholders, nor the board," said Haynes.
However, neighbors worry about what else the R-B zoning classification would bring to the waterfront fairways.
"This is like getting hit by a second Katrina. What Katrina didn't do this rezoning could do," countered Retired Col. Michael Ryan.
He lives on the golf course. So does Dr. Bobby Little. They co-chair the Committee to Save the Great Southern. In recent weeks, they collected 250 signed petitions from people who don't want condos or other businesses to be built on the golf course. They would be allowed if the golf course was rezoned.
"To destroy this neighborhood for the benefit of a few is just almost insane," Dr. Little said.
After Katrina, Great Southern board members put the golf course on the market. And Haynes admits they looked at a couple of mixed use proposals for their property. But in December, Haynes said the board determined saving and renovating Great Southern was its top priority.
"There's no development plans on the board. There's none in the mill. We're not advertising the property for sale," the former golf course board member said.
Col. Ryan was surprised shortly after the storm when the initial for sale sign went up. He was relieved when it came down. To him, "This is a very special place. And this course is a special treasure for this city and the state of Mississippi. And it would be a terrible shame to allow this beautiful course to be developed into condos or some other business project."
Haynes tried to put that concern to rest.
"That's certainly not the intention of the board of directors at this time," he said.
The recommendation from Gulfport's planning commission staff was to deny the golf course's zoning change request. The full planning commission upheld that decision on Thursday.