GULFPORT — A Louisiana developer has filed permit applications for what could be the largest commercial park development in the history of the Coast — and the largest wetlands fill on the Coast since permits started being required for filling wetlands in 1974.
Developer Butch Ward of Gretna, La., is proposing a project on an undeveloped 1,350-acre track of land located just west of the Gulfport Factory Shops at U.S. 49 and Interstate 10 all the way over to Canal Road. The property runs south to about the DuPont Railroad spur, and is one of the largest undeveloped tracks of land in the city.
“This is an expensive piece of territory that is a prime real estate opportunity for development particularly considering it will be link a between the proposed north-south corridor from the State Port to I-10,” said Michael Olivier, executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission. “The importance of the development is that it will be running parallel to Interstate 10 so it will have visual impact as a retail development, as well as provide recreational and leisure development opportunities. It should hold very true to Interstate-10 corridor patterns.”
A mix of retail and office developments are planned, and a golf course or other recreational developments are also being considered.
The site includes about 1,000 acres of wetlands. Ward’s Turkey Creek Limited Partnership has filed applications with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) to fill in about 524 acres of wetlands for the proposed project. It is the largest wetlands fill proposed on the Coast since the COE began permitting wetlands 26 years ago. Olivier said the wetlands are low-quality pine savannah wetlands, and can be displaced.
Ward has been previously cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for wetlands violations on the site in question. He was fined $115,000 and agreed to put together a plan for developing the property. The plan developed is outlined in the permit application. Public comments on the permit application are being taken until May 1.
The applicant, whose plans were developed by a Florida consulting firm, proposes what is known as “on-site” mitigation to compensate for filling in the wetlands.
“The vast majority of wetlands are overgrown pine savannah, large portions of which have been logged or impacted by past drainage ditch and road construction,” the permit applications states.
“The applicant is proposing to develop approximately 751 acres of the property and manage the remaining 599 acres as a wetland conservation area.”
Initial work proposed includes extending Creosote Road from where it ends now at the Gulfport Factory Shops to Canal Road. The developer intends to dedicate the road to public use after completion, allowing it to serve as a major east-west connector from U.S. 49 to Canal Road.
Ward is proposing to place 477 acres of wetlands and 122 acres of uplands into a conservation easement for long-term management and preservation. The proposed on-site mitigation measures include primary enhancement of 408 acres of pine savannah wetlands and secondary enhancement of 69 acres of hardwood wetlands.
Primary enhancement proposed in the pine savannah wetlands includes removing undesirable trees and shrubs, and implementing a burn program to restore desired vegetative composition. Secondary enhancement efforts proposed consist of improving the hydrology and the vegetative buffer for the hardwood slough communities. In addition, the system of ditches which currently direct runoff from I-10 to Turkey Creek would be plugged to cause surface water to flow out over the mitigation area instead of flowing unrestricted into Turkey Creek.
Olivier said on-site mitigation is a good option because it provides benefits in the same watershed. He said it also provides the opportunity to provide green spaces and buffer areas to provide attractive landscaping elements to the commercial development.
“There are certain things he wants to buffer such as the rail spur to the south and drainage easements,” Olivier said. “It adds a valuable dimension when you have the opportunity to work your green spaces into the development. For example, when you buy a lot for a house, you pay more for trees because it enhances the value. If you have a large track of land like this, you can usually do on-site mitigation to the benefit of not only the developer, but the entire community.”
Gulfport has had a lot of commercial real estate development in recent years along the Interstate 10/U.S. 49 Interchange with the construction of the Gulfport Factory Shop and Crossroads Shopping Center. Olivier said there is room for more.
“We still have the opportunity for other big box retail development in addition to specialty development and restaurant development,” Olivier said. “This will not only be retail, but also office developments. We have a very fast growing need for different kinds of office space as well as combination warehouse/distribution/office space. It isn’t going to turn into one big parking lot overnight. It is going to be a development with a very pleasing, planned approach.”
Olivier said the development is probably the most comprehensive commercial development ever proposed on the Coast.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.