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Green space and golf or housing development?

Golf course center of debate on Coast

BILOXI – The Biloxi City Council has authorized the mayor to enter into negotiations for possible purchase of the Edgewater Bay Golf Course to preserve green

space in the heart of the city, while providing a municipal golf course for residents and tourists.

But an attorney for the golf course says the city could face litigation for interfering with the owner’s contract to sell the golf course to Hattiesburg housing developer

Bennett York.

“The mayor believes it should be a municipal golf course,” said City of Biloxi spokesman Vincent Creel. “He has felt that way since 1998 when he first approached the

city council about this. At the time the mayor made a $3.4-million offer, and they rejected that offer. The mayor feels a municipal course would give citizens a chance

to play golf at a reasonable price. This is also a quality of life issue because you would be preserving a large amount of green space, and a good bit of it is on the

water. There is no other room in the city to build a golf course, and we could have other recreational uses, as well, which could include tennis courts and walking


Originally there was a covenant requiring the property to remain a golf course. That covenant ended in Jan. 1, 2000. Proponents of the city purchasing the golf course

say it is needed to provide an affordable place for both residents and snowbird tourists to play golf. The housing development is opposed by neighboring residents

who have voiced concerns that the project would increase traffic congestion and impact wetlands.

Billy Miller, the attorney for Edgewater Bay, said the city faces potential litigation for interfering with the property owner’s contract to sell the golf course to Bennett


“The contract has already been signed, and we are merely awaiting closing right now,” Miller said. “Tortious interference with the contract could expose the city to

significant liability. In 1998 the city had the opportunity to buy the golf course, or the surrounding homeowners association could have bought the golf course, but

neither entity was willing to pay fair market value for the property.”

There was no action on the property for a couple of years. Then, after being approached by York Community Development Company for permits to develop the

property, city officials and residents near the golf course began advocating the course be purchased by the city.

Miller said that the York development would increase tax revenues to the city by putting 133 new homes on the tax rolls, and would be a well-planned, upscale

residential community along the lines of York’s Canebreak development in the Hattiesburg area.

The City of Biloxi shouldn’t be interfering with plans to redevelop the golf course, Miller said.

“The bottom line of what is appalling about this matter is that this is a private landowner who wishes to sell her property to a developer, who wishes to develop this

property in accordance with all applicable zoning laws,” Miller said. “In our view, the city’s actions thus far are nothing short of confiscatory.”

Creel said that the city must respect the rights of landowners. “If what they want to do falls within current zoning, you have to consider the rights of the landowners,”

Creel said.

Councilman Tom Wall, who represents the area that includes Edgewater Bay, said that at a recent meeting in his ward all 120 people in attendance favored saving the

golf course. But he said the issue isn’t just about saving the golf course for the people who live next to it.

“That golf course benefits the whole city,” Wall said. “It is the primary course for the snowbirds, the northern folks that come down here to play golf every year. One

of the hotel ladies in charge of making up golf packages told me that that it is their primary course. Most of these folks are not up to playing the pro-style courses.

They like the municipal-style course. Although it isn’t a municipal course now, it sure would make a good one. It has a lot of valuable beautiful green space, and green

space is one of most precious commodities right now. But this one isn’t just a matter of saving the trees. It’s also a matter of saving the tees.”

Leo Burton, president of Edgewater Estates Homeowners Association, said the golf course plays a valuable role in producing tourism revenues.

“The quality of life for all Biloxi citizens is derived from tourism, the driving force in this whole Coast economy,” Burton said. “We have improved streets, schools, fire

and police and parks, and have very low unemployment. Would all that be available without the revenue generated by the tourism industry? The answer is ‘no.’ This

golf course is supported by about 40,000 player rounds a year. About 30% are tourist-played rounds. Also, senior citizens, youths and Joe average can’t afford to

play at the casino golf courses, even if they could get on them. The truth is if those 40,000 rounds are eliminated, there will be no place for those people to play.”

Burton said the homeowner’s association objects to the residential development because of fears it could increase traffic congestion, and cause drainage or flooding

problems because of wetlands impacts and construction in flood zones.

Miller, the attorney for Edgewater Bay, said that the development is going to be well planned and attractive. He said increased traffic wouldn’t be a problem because

200 feet of frontage on the west side of the golf course will be used to build another road. And he questioned the motives of the municipal golf course proponents.

“The folks that are now claiming they are interested in green space are not saying that they would like the property turned into a public park for the benefit of all the

citizens of Biloxi,” Miller said. “But rather they are saying they would like to preserve the green space in their back yard. What we see is 200 citizens of the city of

Biloxi attempting to have the rest of the taxpaying citizens subsidize their view.”

Burton denies that is an issue, and says that revenues from the golf course could pay for its purchase and upkeep.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.


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