Diamondhead zoning shoots down Jacobs Casino request
By Dwayne Bremer
Jun 28, 2013, 18:15
David Grunenwald, v.p. of development for Jacobs Entertainment.
Diamondhead's Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday unanimously denied a request for a zoning change which was sought by developers to bring a casino to the city.
The commission's decision will now be forwarded to the city council for final review.
Diamondhead Real Estate, a subsidiary of Jacobs Entertainment, had sought to rezone about 40 units of property on Diamondhead's south side from residential to C-2 commercial.
Jacobs unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a similar zoning change from the Hancock County Board of Supervisors in 2009, when the community fell under the county's zoning ordinances.
The comprehensive plan, however, allows the city to revisit the zoning for commercial development in the future once the area's covenants expire or other requirements are met.
Jacobs owns property near Airport Drive and has obtained ownership in 34 of the 37 units of the former Harbor House property.
Last year, Diamondhead approved its new zoning ordinances and a comprehensive plan, which placed most of Jacobs property in a residential zone.
David Grunenwald, the vice-president of development for Jacobs, said Wednesday that his company wants to bring an upscale casino to the area and has already spent about $1 million in conducting due diligence on the project.
Grunenwald said the new casino project is similar to the one it presented in 2009.
"Conceptually, the plans are not much different than they were five years ago," he said. "We have about 70 acres of property under our control. It's a great piece of property, but a challenging one."
Attorney Mike Cavanaugh, who represents Jacobs, said although the property was only zoned nine months ago, there have been changes in the character of the area which would warrant a zoning change.
Since the zoning went into effect, Cavanaugh said, the streets have been taken over by the city; Jacobs has obtained more property in the area; and the Mississippi Gaming Commission has enacted new rules regarding casino development.
"This is overwhelming change in the neighborhood," he said. "Otherwise, you are going to have vacant lots."
Cavanaugh said a new casino would also be a huge benefit to the community.
Grunenwald said the casino would create about 550 jobs and produce more than $2.6 million in annual taxes.
He said Jacobs not only wants to build a casino, but provide other amenities such as a designer garden, amphitheater, and aquatic water show.
Marshall Kyger, the president of the Diamondhead Property Owners Association, said the POA recently conducted an opinion poll and nearly 70 percent of the residents polled supported casino development.
Opponents of the zoning change, however, said Jacobs is moving too fast and that their request for a zoning change is flawed.
Attorney Robert Wiygul, who represented about a dozen residents opposed to the zoning change, said Jacobs should not be granted the change.
"What I'm seeing and hearing today is quite different from the application that was presented," Wiygul said. "It's not about if someone wants a casino or if we should have a casino, it's about if this property should be rezoned from what it was nine months ago."
Wiygul said the changes cited by Jacobs do not meet requirements set forth in law.
"Change in ownership has never been a change in character," he said. "This is all about what they believe they need to get approved by the gaming commission."
Wiygul also asked that any commissioners who have made public comments in favor or against the casino project recuse themselves from the vote.
Commissioner Hensley Cantone said she wanted to see more information about how the project would affect the community.
"There has been no discussion about lights, noise, or transportation," she said.
Commissioner Oiler Smith asked why the entire property needed to be rezoned if part of it was already zoned for commercial.
Grunenwald said that he felt the gaming commission would not approve a casino project if there was not consistent zoning throughout the property.
After hearing from both sides, the commission voted 7-0 to deny the application.
Attorney Vic Franckiewicz of Butler Snow, which had been retained by the commission, said that the matter will be forwarded to the city council. He said the council could uphold the commission's ruling or reverse it and approve the application. If the application is denied by the city council, Jacobs must wait a year before it can reapply, he said.