GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Battle lines have been drawn in Gulfport. At the center of it all is a 200-year-old live oak tree at Kid Academy day care. It's become a fight between owner, city, and residents over whether the tree should stay or if it should go.
Kid Academy owner Matt Dickens wants to expand his day care business, and was willing to include the tree in the plans. But now, he said he found out the tree is dangerous because it's dying.
So far, city officials have denied his request to remove it twice.
"If this tree brings harm to a human or possible death, I'm going to make it a world known fact," Dickens said.
According to Dickens, it would have been cheaper to build around rather than take the tree down, but after hearing about the condition of the tree, he said he didn't want to take a chance.
"If I was simply worried about money and the business side of things, I would let this move forward with the tree, roll my dice, see what happens," Dickens said. "But now that I know that the tree is dangerous, I'm scared to do that."
Dickens' request to take the tree down was originally turned down by the city's arborist, so he hired Biloxi arborist Eric Nolan, who warned the tree was dying.
"The tree was damaged when they bought the property," Nolan said. "And was a problem with the site to begin with. He's just trying to reduce his liability on the site."
But, the planning commission denied the request in June. So, Dickens brought in another arborist, Joe Loftus, who is also certified in tree risk assessment.
He reached the same conclusion.
"This tree is definitely in a spiral decline," Loftus said. "And because it's been damaged and had so many stress factors make it decline quicker than what it normally would have. It's a danger."
Dickens is frustrated that there has been no official word from the city on the tree's condition.
"If they would tell me it's safe, I'm ready to move forward and see what we can do to preserve the tree and hopefully, possibly build a building," said Dickens.
City officials declined to comment until the process is complete. The appeal will likely be heard by the Gulfport City Council at its meeting Sept. 5.
If Dickens is denied again, he said he is willing to take the case to court.