Local family sues Bay over ‘worthless’ beach property
By Dwayne Bremer
Jul 3, 2014, 19:23
A prominent Bay St. Louis family has filed suit against the city of Bay St. Louis claiming that a city zoning ordinance made its beach-front property worthless.
The suit lists several living and deceased members of the Gex family and others as plaintiffs.
It was filed in U.S. District Court in Gulfport.
In September 2010, the city adopted a zoning ordinance which placed several beach front properties in an R-5 "Open Beach District."
The R-5 classification's purpose was to "preserve the sand beach and the lands located to the south of the seawall protective barrier," according to section 608.1 of the zoning ordinance.
It states that no structures can be built on the properties, according to the suit.
On April 4, 2014, the estate of Ethel H. Gex submitted a request to change the zoning to a C-1 commercial business district.
The city's planning and zoning commission denied the zoning change and on June 3, the city council upheld the planning and zoning commission's recommendation.
On June 9, the Gex family filed a Bill of Exceptions in Hancock County Circuit Court and also filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction and declaratory judgement.
"The city, through regulation, act, acts omissions, violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights and took their property without payment of just compensation," the suit said. "The city rendered their property valueless, stripping it of all economic and functional use."
The Gex family property is located three lots north of the new municipal harbor, which is also in the new R-5 district, the suit said.
"The city is allowing the property use of a marina without the city having submitted any zoning change application on the property or going through the required hearing process," the suit said.
The Gex family is represented by local attorney Gary Yarborough, who is also the attorney for Waveland and Hancock County.
Bay St. Louis filed an answer to the federal complaint on Tuesday.
In the answer, the city denied any wrong-doing.
City Attorney Donald Rafferty said Thursday that he believes the city had a right to construct the harbor, but he did not wish to make any specific comments about the ongoing litigation.
He said the city has obtained clearance from the Secretary of State's office to construct the harbor.
Last year, a group of residents unsuccessfully sued Hancock County over construction of a bathroom complex on the beach front at Washington Street.
The harbor property falls under the city's zoning, but under the county's Sand Beach Master Plan the bathroom and the marina are deemed acceptable uses.
No trial date for the lawsuit has been set.