Biloxi ballpark project clears tree hurdle

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Biloxi baseball stadium project cleared a major hurdle Thursday.

The city's planning commission voted unanimously to allow the removal of 19 protected trees that stand in the way of the project.

"We've been able to preserve 18 of the 36 trees on the site. And we are relocating one," project architect Leigh Jaunsen told commissioners.  She noted large live oaks must be removed to allow construction of the project.  Many of those trees are right in the middle of the stadium footprint.

"Moving the stadium a foot or two one way or another is not going to do enough to save those trees," explained community development director, Jerry Creel.

The planning commission postponed a vote on this controversial issue two weeks ago.  They wanted to give the city arborist time to take a closer look at the project plans to see if any more trees could be spared.

The commission heard from citizens against the tree removal.   Others oppose the ballpark all together.

"Everybody thinks this is going to be so great. Well, just like the Ohr Museum. That was gonna be so great. Well, you see what happened there. It's a dud," said citizen, Mary Rose Lahey.

The project architect made it clear, the commission faced an all or nothing decision.

"So, what happens if we do not approve the removal of the trees?" asked a commissioner.

"Then we won't build a stadium," the architect replied.

In the end, commissioners voted unanimously to allow the trees to come down. They want city arborist, Eric Nolan to oversee the process.

"To make the final decision on what trees come down. Because as it goes, we know it has to come down. But we'd like to leave that in your ballywick and let you make the final decisions," said commissioner, August Parker.

Commissioners also ordered a tree replacement provision.

"At least a one for one tree replacement. If not on the property, then somewhere in the city of Biloxi. Because there are a lot of places we could have trees put back. And they grow fairly fast," said commissioner, Joann Humphrey.

The ballpark project remains on a fast track. Construction plans and specifications are now being put together.  It could go out for bid before the first of next year.

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