GAUTIER — Azur Shell Landing Resort Inc. boasts one of the finest golf courses on the Coast. In fact, the Grand Shell Landing Golf Course designed by Davis Love was ranked by Golf Digest as one of America’s Best New Courses of 2002.
Besides golf, one unique thing about the Azur Shell Landing community is that despite being located south of U.S. 90 in sight of the Mississippi Sound on its southern border, only four homes in the community took on water with Hurricane Katrina. Overall, Shell Landing had little damage from the storm.
And now the upscale, gated community is set on a major expansion course. Developer Carl Crawford is planning $1.27-billion worth of mixed-used development — the largest development ever proposed for Gautier — over the next seven to ten years.
Crawford, who was a partner in HAM Marine and then its successor, Friede Goldman (which is now Signal International), for 17 years, has lived in Jackson County since 1981. He had big plans for Shell Landing before Katrina, and that has only accelerated since the storm has created a dramatic need for additional housing.
A total of 2,287 housing units in seven different areas are planned on the 1,700 acres at Shell Landing. Crawford is planning a dense, mixed-use community with retail, restaurants, single-family homes, townhomes and condos. The townhomes will be in the range of $200,000 each, the condos will start at $225,000 and homes are in the range of $300,000. The developments will be densely clustered, leaving plenty of green space for common use by residents.
Despite its location near the Mississippi Sound, Shell Landing has more elevation than many areas on the Coast.
“We are at about 14 to 22 feet above sea level,” Crawford said. “Our house received virtually no damage whatsoever in Katrina. We had no damage to the clubhouse. We did have some damage to equipment.”
Six months previous to Katrina, the Crawfords sold their home on Biloxi Back Bay in St. Martin to move to Shell Landing. Their previous home was completely destroyed by Katrina.
Normally it might take literally years to get the wetlands permit to develop that much land in wetlands rich coastal Mississippi. But Shell Landing already had permits for the original portion of the development. Recently Azur Shell landing purchased an additional 398 acres of land and combined that with 330 acres it already owned, and the combined land totaling 728 acres was rezoned into the resort’s planned unit development (PUD).
Crawford doesn’t plan to fill in the wetlands on the new portion of the PUD.
“We have a tremendous amount of wetlands that will be left and will never be touched,” Crawford said. “We are working with agencies to get wetlands delineations approved. We are not asking to encroach on wetlands. Seeing as how under the present plan all of the construction is on high and dry ground, I don’t see much problem going forward.”
Crawford believes the large marshes at Shell Landing are part of what protected the community from damage in Hurricane Katrina. There are also three ridges that are 18 feet in elevation.
“The wave had to hit that and was slowed down,” Crawford said. “We have three huge marshes that run up into Shell Landing and go almost to Highway 90. They absorb so much water. Every house I have ever owned has been surrounded by wetlands and I am very eager to protect them. I think they add tremendously to the value of what you have.”
Gautier’s city planning director George Carbo said having already done a major portion of the development, Shell Landing realizes the benefits of green space for environmental protection, plus for the enjoyment of the community as a whole.
“They are preserving and mostly avoiding the wetlands in the area,” Carbo said. “People are looking to come to Gautier because of the wetlands, bayous and rivers. By preserving those, that adds to the marketability of the property.”
Carbo said the design is neighborhood oriented, allowing people who live in the community to have easy access to a small shopping area. The commercial district is intended for neighborhood-oriented businesses as opposed to businesses where people are going to drive from outside of the county.
The community will have a town center with commercial enterprises such as a small grocery store, beauty salon, ice cream shops, etc.
“Shell Landing is a great addition to the city, and we have several developments that are going to be coming through in the next several years that are going to be fabulous, and that are going to reach all spectrums of how people want to live in Gautier,” Carbo said. “Even within Shell Landing there is a variety of options for homes from townhomes to smaller lots to estate size homes.”
Plans are for some of the businesses in the town center to have residential space upstairs.
“I would love to see a place where people could work and live in the same community,” Crawford said.
The development would be similar to the New Urbanism vision that encourages clustered housing and walkable neighborhoods so people don’t have to drive everywhere. ButCrawford said they haven’t been able to use SmartCode zoning that encourages mixed use because there are so many wetlands and waterways running through the property.
SmartCode calls for a grid where streets run square to each other, and that isn’t possible at Shell Landing without encroaching on wetlands and waterways.
By clustering housing, retail and commercial development, a lot of green space will be left as parks. Part of the green space will be used to help protect water quality in the area.
Stormwater that might contain dirt or grease from cars is funneled into ponds that help purify the water before it is discharged.
Shell Landing also has a 16-acre refuge for the endangered gopher tortoise on the east side of their property. If more tortoises are found on the west side of the property added to the development recently, Crawford said there will be a place to put them.
Currently there are more houses under construction at one time at Azur Shell Landing than in its history. There are approximately 15 homes under construction. Crawford plans to start building townhomes and condos within the next six months.
While Shell Landing will do some of the construction itself, it will also be selling off lots to other developers.
“We have an apartment site people are trying to buy on the extreme east side of the property that is bordered by another road,” Crawford said. “We have two townhome sites people want to buy. We are very close to bringing in the developers to do the townhomes and apartments. If they buy the property, they will want to move rather quickly. I thank goodness we have a city that is friendly to development as long as it is done in the proper way, and we will do it in the proper way.”
Why does he think a development this big would take off in Gautier?
First is the secluded environment surrounded by nature.
“When you come over that bridge the leads to Shell Landing, it is like being in a different world,” Crawford said. “It is quiet, peaceful, and there is a tremendous amount of wildlife. There is not a day that goes by that you don’t see a rabbit or deer. There are a lot of egrets and blue herons out there. This whole community is just a peaceful place. It is very safe. I don’t know of another gated community in South Mississippi that is guarded 24 hours per day.”
Quick access to U.S. 90 just a few miles from Mississippi 57 that leads to Interstate 10 is another favorable factor.
People commuting to work or other activities might find it faster to go down U.S. 90, up Mississippi 57 to I-10, and then down the I-110 to Biloxi than it used to be to drive through Ocean Springs to Biloxi when the U.S. 90 bridge was still there.
“It is extremely convenient for people working in Biloxi,” Crawford said. “It takes 17 minutes to get to the IP, 20 minutes to get to the Beau Rivage and 25 to get to Isle of Capri.”
Another advantage he sees is that some spec homes are under construction at Shell Landing. Some are 80% to 90% complete. Instead of having to wait six months and worry about availability of labor, people can buy a home under construction, pick out the finishing colors and floorings, and be in the home in a month.
Shell Landing was purchased by Crawford and the Florida company Azur International in 2005. While Crawford owns some other parcels of land that will be developed someday, right now his focus is on Shell Landing.
“Right now this is pretty much it,” said Crawford, who is a native of Greenville. “It takes all of my time. I am one of the owners of Opus restaurant, so I spend a lot of time there as well.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.