BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Just one day after Biloxi was designated for the 30th year as a member of Tree City USA, the Biloxi Planning Commission agreed with the developer of an East Biloxi property to take down 36 trees to make room for a Hyatt Place Hotel.
While some are worried about the loss of character with the loss of the trees, Biloxi's Director of Community Development is praising the land owners for their effort to actually save trees.
If the City of Biloxi approves the planning commission's recommendation, most of the trees will be gone.
The developer originally sought to remove 37 trees, but Gerrod Kilpatrick, the engineer in charge of the Hyatt development who was speaking for owner Sonny Bhakta, agreed at the meeting to save one of two oaks that front the entrance from the beach.
The almost three acre property involved is in East Biloxi, next to the Hampton Inn, on Beach Boulevard. Several residents, like DeAnne Nuwer, called for stronger oversight.
"We have lost so much in Katrina, and I'm asking you all to think about this, and perhaps work with this gentleman. Have him move a little bit more. Put some more pavers down. Help those trees, and keep that beach front looking like we once knew what it looked like," said Nuwer.
Jerry Creel, Biloxi's Director of Community Development, says that only four of the trees requested for removal are live oaks, and of those, many are damaged beyond repair.
He said the 13 trees that will be saved is a good thing and praised the developer for working with the city.
Creel calls it a balancing act to protect trees but not stop business development. In addition, while there is strong authority to protect trees on public property, private property is a whole different matter, even if every request to remove more than five protected trees must go through an approval process.
"We can work with the developer. We can do everything we can to try to encourage him to look for ways the save the trees that we believe are salvageable, but at the end of the day, trees on private property are private property," said Creel.
The property developers scored another win in the Biloxi Board of Zoning Adjustments meeting following the planning commission's decision.
They requested and received permission to raise the height of their hotel to 79 feet instead of the 60 feet originally allowed by the ordinance. They also received permission to allow 114 hotel units rather than the 84 permitted.
There will be public hearings planned to discuss changing the ordinances for future developments.