Mayor now has 10 days to veto, or not
By MARY PEREZ
BILOXI --The City Council cast a 4-3 vote Tuesday to rezone the Tivoli Hotel site to "waterfront" and now Mayor A.J. Holloway must decide if he will veto the zoning change or let the developers go before the Mississippi Gaming Commission and ask if the property is a legal casino site.
"It's sort of like I expected," Holloway said of the alignment of the vote, which came after nearly three hours of testimony from the audience and an hour more of the council members explaining their positions. Bill Stallworth and President Ed Gemmill said they agonized over the decision and eventually sided with Mike Fitzpatrick and Charles Harrison in favor of rezoning. George Lawrence, Tom Wall and David Fayard voted against the zoning change.
Holloway has 10 days from when he receives the signed ordinance to decide whether he will veto; he said he will try to make that decision as quickly as possible. The council would need two-thirds of the members present to override a mayoral veto - five votes if all seven councilmen are present. Tuesday's 4-3 vote indicates they wouldn't have enough votes.
The developers have an ace in the hole. Because the council - rather than the developers of the proposed $1.2 billion casino - requested the zoning change, property-owner Biloxi Capital could still go through the usual channels and start the rezoning-request process all over again if the veto stands.
Holloway said after the meeting, "I've heard all the pros and cons," including the intent of the legislators not to expand gambling at this time.
State Rep. Michael Janus, R-Biloxi, told the council it was difficult to get fellow lawmakers in 2005 to approve House Bill 45, which allowed onshore casinos after Katrina. Both he and state Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said the Legislature has no intention of revisiting the casino legislation or imposing a moratorium on future casinos. But Janus said a vote for rezoning would make it more difficult to find votes for continued hurricane relief on the Coast. "There is Katrina fatigue in the Legislature," he said.
Fitzpatrick told council members the millions in tax revenue he says the Tivoli Casino would pay to the city each year would help their wards. "We are in a crisis right now," he said. "Condo units are not selling." He said the Tivoli Casino could be the shot in the arm the city needs. "Probably within 30 months you would see that project completed there."
Several council members said they received a huge number of phone calls, e-mails and personal visits from Biloxi residents about the rezoning. "I have been talked to," said Wall. "I love this project," he added, "it's just in the wrong place," and he fears once this development is allowed north of U.S. 90, developers "won't quit until they cover this beach with casinos."
Stallworth went through a list of residents' concerns and said ultimately it was a zoning decision. Gemmill admitted he didn't know if the Tivoli Casino was in the right place at the right time, but said, "it's vital that we move forward."
Tivoli Hotel after Hurricane Katrina
Provided by www.gulfcoasthurricanecenter.com/katrinams.html
The Proposed Tivoli Project
Provided by WLOX (www.wlox.com