When it came to rebuilding in the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, local developers Joe Cloyd and Adam Dial took a “commonsense new urbanism” approach. 

Almost six years after the storm, Cloyd and Dial transformed a blighted 40-year-old mobile home park near the heart of downtown Ocean Springs, Miss., into the energy-efficient and storm-resistant Cottages at Oak Park. 

Their approach for the rental homes was inspired by the Mississippi Renewal Forum, a weeklong design charrette in fall 2005, that spawned a lot of positive ideas on new urbanism, smart code, sustainability, and walkability. 

Cloyd and Dial started down the new urbanism path by purchasing the mobile home property, which had poorly functioning infrastructure and had become an eyesore for the community.  “It is directly across from the best elementary school in town and positioned along a growth corridor for Ocean Springs,” Cloyd says regarding the appeal of the property’s location. 

To create the Cottages at Oak Park, they partnered with Mercy Housing and Human Development and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency's Eco-Cottage grant program, which was created to provide single-family disaster housing alternatives incorporating green building that could serve as temporary or permanent homes. 

Designed by local architect Bruce Tolar, the community includes 29 one-, two-, and three-bedroom cottages; nine are modular cottages, with the remainder having been built on site. The team also reoriented the infrastructure for a better layout, rear parking, and new landscaping. 

The cottage community was the first rental development to receive LEED-Platinum certification in the state, according to Cloyd. 

He attributes that to the location near a transit stop and within walking distance to stores, restaurants, and other services; the redevelopment of an underutilized site; and the use of indigenous landscaping, high-performing HVAC systems, energy-efficient appliances and windows, and prefab panels. 

“We did commonsensical green building. We did nothing too costly because we knew it would be a rental community and wanted to keep the homes affordable for a wide swath of folks,” says Cloyd. 

In addition to achieving high green building standards as part of the Eco-Cottage grant program, the developers also had to achieve sustainability from a wind load standpoint. Their plans and structural engineering were scrutinized from a design and implementation standpoint. 

The homes, which are set on piers above the FEMA flood zone requirements, have been designed and are built to FEMA hurricane-zone standards and to meet or exceed 145 mph wind loads. 

Since Katrina, flood and wind insurance costs also have become a significant issue for many developers, but the structural design of the Cottages at Oak Park has helped reduce those payments.   

“We spent a little more to build the community, but we’ve already hit our payback on increased costs versus payments on premiums,” says Cloyd. “As a community and a developer, we’ve had to pay attention to increasing the structural integrity of everything we build from both a lifecycle and a cost standpoint.” 

The development team also constructed a sister project in Pass Christian, another Mississippi Gulf Coast city hard hit by Katrina. The Cottages at Second Street include 20 refurbished one-story Mississippi Cottages and 20 energy-efficient two-story cottages.