Navigating the ever-changing regulations, codes, and permits for a new site on the Mississippi Gulf Coast can be challenging. With the recent uptick in Coast commercial development, we thought it might be helpful to share some of the top questions and concerns that Leigh Jaunsen has helped guide clients through over the past 10 years.
What are some examples of special requirements for certain projects?
Casinos are a good example. They are required to be located within 800 feet of the mean high water line and often have to comply with V Zone and/or Coastal A requirements. The gaming commission requires that the city and county governments “not oppose” the project and that the applicant must provide evidence that they do not oppose it. In order to obtain this “evidence” from the jurisdiction, you must confirm that you are aware of and committed to meeting the zoning and building requirements.
My Gulf Coast project needs to be fast tracked. How can I avoid backtracking on my project?
The most important thing is to have someone who is familiar with the area, the jurisdiction and the requirements. If you have someone knowledgeable on your team, you can get off to a good start and pre-plan for a lot of issues that would potentially cause roadblocks mid-project.
Can I build in the V Zone?
Yes, but there are specific structural requirements that must be met. For example, the bottom of the lowest horizontal structural member must be 1 to 2 feet above the BFE (base flood elevation) and any walls that are built below that elevation must be constructed in a way that allows them to break away in the event of a storm surge. Building orientation is also an issue. V Zone requirements for construction may also apply in the ‘A’ flood zones if the jurisdiction has adopted higher floodplain management standards. The Coastal A zone is generally defined as any of the A flood zones that are subject to the ‘Limit of Wave Action’ line. Most cities use GIS mapping to define the flood zones and the limit of wave action lines. It helps to have a good relationship with the floodplain manager and meet with them early in the design phase to make sure your project is meeting the flood zone design requirements. Cities must enforce the flood zone requirements ---if they don’t, they may lose their good standing and cause insurance rates to go up for all property owners.
How often should I meet with the planning commission and design review committees?
Request soft reviews with city planners and building officials such as the fire chief to make sure you are headed in the right direction before going to the Planning Commission or a design review. You don’t want to waste their time or yours. An appearance at the Planning Commission or the Design Review Board should simply be the completion of a milestone in the design schedule.
Do you have to harden every facility you build on the Coast?
’Hardening’ a building generally means that you are bringing a building up to FEMA 361 standards which are the standards for building a structure that is able to resist tornadoes and hurricanes. We are not required to build all buildings to the FEMA 361 standard, but all buildings are required to meet the building code which requires that buildings be able to resist high wind loads. Some parts of the MS Coast require the building to resist wind loads as high as 150 mph. Wind loads affect the design of the building envelope from the structure, to the roof, to the windows and even doors and their hardware.
What building enhancements can reduce my insurance cost?
Insurance companies are becoming more and more specific about building details. It’s best to involve them early on if you have a significant size project, but generally, a building that is certified by an engineer as meeting the building code requirements is enough to insure the lowest rates. Also maximizing the ‘freeboard’ that a city allows may reduce your flood insurance rate.
Given various airports and Keesler Air Force Base and Stennis Space Center in the area, are there any special considerations that I should be aware of?
Keesler AFB has a height hazard map that must be consulted when building in Biloxi and D’Iberville. And when building at Stennis, you need to consider the impact that the vibrations from rocket testing may have on your building. At Stennis, designing around wetlands preservation is another special consideration.
Site Approval and Site Development: Bacarran Bay
Development of gaming sites along the Mississippi Gulf Coast has now entered its third decade since approval of gaming in Mississippi. Gaming is permitted in Harrison and Hancock Counties on property that meets the criteria of the post Katrina laws, meaning casinos no longer have to “float” and can be constructed onshore within the 800-foot onshore gaming boundary established by a set of criteria based on the location of the mean high water line.
For site approval, the first official step with the MS Gaming Commission is to make a submittal of the proposed site with supporting documentation of its legal disposition as a gaming site and identify the location of the 800-foot line. There are some pre-requisites to seeking “site approval.” Dale Partners has followed this process on several casinos in the past including Bacarran Bay, which was proposed for a location on Caillavet St. in Biloxi.
Bacarran Bay is a great example of the process including the City approvals that might be needed as well as the Gaming Commission. The process includes:
Correct zoning – i.e. the site has to be zoned for gaming prior to submittal to the MS Gaming Commission. In Biloxi, as part of the rezoning process, a master plan for the project can be submitted for simultaneous approval as it is required prior to going to the City for local Site Plan Review and approval by the City. The master plan includes written descriptions of uses, proposed site layouts, schematic building plans and elevations, parking structures and parking calculations showing compliance with the Land Development Ordinance, compliance with the Keesler Height/Hazard Overlay, approvals from any federal or state jurisdictions involving wetlands or hazardous materials, and compliance with FEMA flood hazard restrictions as applied by FEMA and the City.
Once the site has obtained the correct zoning, a submittal to the MS Gaming Commission can be made for “site approval.” Documentation of many of the same aspects found in the master plan documents for the city are also needed as part of the submittal to demonstrate that the site and its intended development are in compliance with federal, state, and local laws.
After site approval, the next site-related approval is the approval to proceed with development. This is in essence approval to proceed with construction so documentation is substantially more detailed. Detailed architectural plans are required and usually artist renderings of the proposed project to help communicate the intended design. The number and types of games along with supporting drawings and square footage summaries for all key areas are also required. Drawings for each of the qualified infrastructure such as hotels, garages, and restaurants are required along with capacities and square footage summaries. Overall site plans and related engineering documents are needed to communicate how the project fits the site, how the gaming areas are within the 800-foot gaming zone and how site infrastructure is proposed to support the operation.
Other components of the approval to proceed with development submittal include: a description of proposed construction process and time table, description of the parking facilities and how they meet their Gaming Commission requirements, plans and descriptions of hotels with at least 300 rooms and supporting restaurants, documentation that the gaming floor is at least 40,000 square feet, and documentation that the project will comply 100% with the infrastructure requirements. Statements reflecting cost projections are required for facility design, land, site preparation costs, construction costs or renovation costs and equipment acquisition costs. Other cost information includes financing, operational and infrastructure.
Approval to proceed expires three years from date of approval to proceed is granted.
Special Site Requirements: MGM Park and Parking Garage
This time last year, the Biloxi Shuckers were staring two months of road games in the face before their home stadium was ready. It was a long and winding road to get to where they are now, but a road that at times seemed fast and furious. Tim Bennett had worked for a decade to bring a team to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and last spring, that goal was realized when the Shuckers played their first home game in the stadium that was actually completed 2 months ahead of schedule.
Beginning in 2012, Dale Partners provided full architectural services for the baseball stadium located in Biloxi off of Highway 90 near the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. It’s an ideal location for the stadium to serve as an economic driver to revitalize the downtown and enhance the tourist experience of Biloxi, but it did present a few challenges. First, it was a tight fit, and field orientation was crucial. “We had to be cognizant about I-110 and how it impacted the stadium and vice versa,” says Leigh Jaunsen. “We also had to move all the utilities out of the middle of the site and into the street.” Additionally, there was a tree permit which required working with the planning commission to develop a mediation plan for the trees that had to be removed from the middle of the site.
Parking requirements for the stadium were minimal since it is located in the Central Business District, so Dale’s team was able to maximize the site and reserve some area for future development. “We were allowed to put parking in the V zone, so that area of the site was the ideal location for the parking garage,” says Jaunsen.
The new 6,000-seat, 455,000 SF stadium can also host other large outdoor events such as concerts and festivals during the off-season. An elevated connector is planned to connect the north and south sides of highway 90 for better pedestrian access. The design blends with the surrounding buildings and the stadium layout is organized around the concourse level that wraps around the field and includes concessions, a lounge and a team store. The majority of the seating is located below the concourse level with 12 suites situated above the concourse.
Multiple Funding Sources: Municipal Harbor, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Our work on this project began with a feasibility study for a marina in Bay St. Louis. We were then selected to provide full architectural services as well as MEMA/FEMA coordination. The new Bay St. Louis Municipal Harbor creates a waterfront gateway for the Bay St. Louis downtown district and was designed to spur economic development to cater to tourists, pleasure boaters and recreational fishermen. The marina is connected to a recreational fishing pier, and the downtown boulevard provides access for both tourists and residents to the new green space, retail and commercial development.The project includes approximately 163 boat slips, a fuel dock, convenience pavilion, parking, restrooms and a harbor master facility.
In addition to our design services, this project required coordination of funding and governing agencies, as well as compliance with departmental regulations and procedural guidelines. We worked with groups and agencies including:
FEMA – approvals and funding for pier component
MDA/CDBG/HUD (primary funding)
Corps of Engineers – Mobile District – wetlands/permit application and coordination for interface with seawall; and compliance with development standards
DMR – permit approvals and Tidelands grant
Secretary of State
US Wildlife and Fisheries
Green Marina Program
Hancock County Sand Beach
City of Bay St. Louis for development ordinances, site plan approval, and code compliance