GULFPORT -- Mayor Billy Hewes urged against it, but the City Council decided 5-2 that a Pass Road property owner could cut down up to five Live oaks for a parking lot in front of his office building.
All five trees are less than 8 inches in diameter, but bigger than the 6 inches in diameter covered under the city's tree ordinance.
Aaron Harris, an engineer representing property owner Dennis Barber, said Barber will try to save one or more of the oaks if he can. Barber wants to put parking in front of his building because he thinks it will be easier to rent. Current parking is behind the building, the old Gulf Regional Planning Commission offices just east of where 28th Street forks off Pass Road.
The property is one of the few oak-shaded spots on the street dominated by asphalt and business signs.
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Hewes told the council the lot is "a bit of an oasis, for lack of a better word." He and council members briefly discussed the empty buildings on Pass Road as residential and commercial growth have moved north.
Rear parking has worked on the property for previous businesses, said the mayor, who added that a group of business people is working on ideas to improve Pass Road.
"There have been viable businesses there before," he said, "and if you want this business to look like the rest of Pass Road, go ahead and go this route."
Council members Myles Sharp, Rusty Walker, Cara Pucheu, Truck Casey and Ricky Dombrowski voted, against the city staff's recommendation, to allow removal of the trees. Council members R.Lee Flowers and Ella Holmes-Hines were opposed.
Walker said he loves Live oaks, but those proposed for removal are not that big. He said taking them out might allow the other trees in front of the building to grow better.
Harris said about 15 trees will remain, including Live oaks bigger than the five Barber intends to cut down.
"We do many things to make our community aesthetically pleasing," Sharp said. "But at the same time, we need to be flexible."
Harris said Barber "is convinced, in talking to other professionals here, that he has to put some parking in front of that building to make it marketable."