GULFPORT — The city has expanded the area in which businesses can operate.
The Waterfront Redevelopment Overlay District runs south of 28th Avenue S on 54th and 56th streets, parallel to the Beach Boulevard business district. It also includes all connector streets.
The newly zoned district, which had been for residential use only, is for low-intensity retail or office uses, not restaurants or bars, said Fred Metcalf, the city's community development director.
The idea was conceived to expand on the success of the Beach Boulevard waterfront district, Mayor Mike Yakes said.
Beach Boulevard began as an arts district, then expanded into more of a hospitality district with bars and restaurants, he said.
The natural progression is to bring professionals, such as dentists, into the city, he said.
For one area businesswoman, the change could not have come soon enough.
Larinda Van Driesen operated Larinda's Total Body Care for 14 years on Beach Boulevard before losing her lease in 2006.
She had gone before the City Council in 1998 to move her salon into her home at 5420 29th Ave. S.
"They told me to be patient; it was going to come," Van Driesen said.
"It's 12 years later," she said.
Yakes said the city wasn't moving too slowly.
"We were just doing our due diligence as we watched to see what the market would bring," Yakes said.
Now, Van Driesen said she is on the verge of bankruptcy as she hurries to make changes so her building will comply with federal handicap-accessibility guidelines.
"I have to make the bathroom 2 inches wider," she said. "And I have to redo the ramp I built."
She plans to go back before the council to get approval for her business in April.
"When you change from residential to commercial, there's no easy way to change," Yakes said.
The new zoning is a compromise that allows quiet and neighborhood-friendly businesses but not the loud noise associated with commercial establishments such as bars.
"It allows more flexibility and different options for people who live in that area," Metcalf said.
"It is not meant to create changes in the residential character of the area," he said.
Whether it will increase area property values remains to be seen.
"It's going to take some time to get a feel on how attractive it's going to be," said Linda Cooley, an agent at Sail Away Realty.
"A lot of people don't even know about it yet," she said.
Todd Wertalik's home at 2920 56th St. S is in the newly zoned district. The WROD zoning will let him rent his home to vacationers and provide porch space for artists to exhibit work during the city's Artwalks, which are held the first Friday and third Saturday of every month.
"Demand for small-town rental is a market niche," said Wertalik, who works for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and also has a home in Bucks County, Pa.
Gulfport is off the beaten path, but once people realize how convenient it is to St. Petersburg and the beaches, they are eager to stay here, Wertalik said.