In this inaugural column, Kyle Lewis, chairman of BSL's Planning and Zoning Commission, describes the function of this committee. We will feature coverage of the monthly P&Z meetings in future installments of this new monthly column.
I want to acknowledge and thank my fellow commissioners for volunteering their time, effort and talents to give back to a town that we are so very proud to call home.
Amy Doescher: Co-Chairman
I couldn’t be more delighted to work with such a pragmatic group of individuals who bring great knowledge and diverse experiences to provide an unbiased and fair determination for all members of our community.
As the Shoofly Magazine highlighted in July, Bay St. Louis was recently named the #5 best coastal small town in America for the second year running. The tremendous demand in the housing market and continued community growth is tangible evidence that Bay Saint Louis is on the upswing and is truly “A Place Apart.”
I do not envy the monumental task that our fellow P&Z predecessors had on their hands following Hurricane Katrina. Our community not only came back stronger, but our city leaders did a tremendous job encouraging growth to the point where we are today. I believe the commission today faces a new set of challenges in balancing the continued approach for positive growth, while ensuring it is the type of growth that preserves the quality of life for all community members.
Zoning ordinances are one of the most important tools that the city has, as zoning regulates land use. Although lots are privately owned, the city retains the right to regulate how the lot is used to promote the health, safety and quality of life of our neighborhoods and overall community. Essentially, the quality of life and welfare of the community is affected by what occurs on neighboring lots, and thus reasonable restrictions can be imposed to maximize each individual’s enjoyment of their private property.
At certain times, landowners apply for a change of zone or rezoning because they want to use the lots for purposes other than what is permitted. The rezoning application is evaluated by city staff to see whether it is appropriate to rezone. The staff’s recommendation is presented to the P&Z at a public meeting.
At the public meeting, the neighboring property owners have the opportunity to tell the P&Z what they think of the rezoning application. I cannot stress how important it is for any neighbor who may benefit or may be adversely affected by the application to attend the meetings to provide feedback. The commissioners greatly value the input from the community, and this is the platform where we provide unencumbered opportunity for discussion.
The P&Z then acts to either recommend approving or denying the rezoning request. Another public meeting is held by the City Council, which will then decide whether or not to rezone the property. The public meetings provide a fair process where citizens are heard prior to land use decisions being made.
The Planning and Zoning Commission also considers variances or exceptions to the city zoning ordinances. We strive to make the most educated and informed decision for each applicant. According to the ordinance, the applicant must prove to the commission that the city ordinance is providing an undue hardship to the intended use of their land and essentially state their case.
As commissioners, we must evaluate certain criteria that justifies that a hardship is indeed present and evaluate each applicant objectively, case by case. It is important to bear in mind that decisions are based on consideration of how an application conforms to the surrounding area.
A past commissioner once told me, “There are no right or wrong votes, but you’d better be prepared to defend your decision when the time comes.” Fortunately, our commissioners have done a tremendous job in making the most objective decisions possible – which may not always be popular with some, but which are met with respect with most.
It is my goal in the coming months to provide a monthly recap and breakdown of the applications presented at the Planning and Zoning meetings. There will be some cut-and-dried applications that are typically allowed, and there will be some applications that bring about a high level controversy. It will be my pleasure to provide all of those details.
Check out the city's zoning maps and zoning ordinance here.