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Forestry Commission and city arborists available to help

Tree ordinances must be considered before construction begins

As more growth and development come to Mississippi, more cities are adopting tree ordinances to protect the state’s natural beauty. Rick Olson with the State Forestry Commission says over 30 cities now have ordinances but most only protect trees on public property. However, cities along the Gulf Coast have ordinances that protect certain trees on public and private property. It’s an issue builders must consider.

It’s hard to imagine Biloxi without its huge, centuries-old live oaks. They’re aesthetically beautiful, add value to property and are tourist attractions. The city has had a tree ordinance for 19 years and Eric Nolan has been the full-time arborist for 11 years. He thinks Biloxi’s ordinance is developer friendly.

“I meet with them on the front end, especially on commercial, multi-family units and condos. I walk the property with them to decide what trees are worth saving,” he said. “All builders are required to go to the Development Review Committee, which we try to make a one-stop shop to get them through the process.”

Nolan says he does not want to torpedo anyone’s project and is looking at the best way to build while saving trees. He says some trees are not worth saving; maybe they’re in an area where it doesn’t matter or are diseased. Fines for removing trees without a permit can be anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per tree. Repeat offenders can get their license for doing business with the city revoked.

“For the most part, builders and developers are cooperative,” he said. “We want to work with them. I’m not a tree policeman.”

He says all the Coast cities’ ordinances are different and he’s working toward standardization. Harrison County is currently working on a tree ordinance, too.

Brian Capo is a tree consultant for the cities of Gulfport, Long Beach and Ocean Springs. He also consults with developers. He says all the cities’ ordinances protect live oaks. Gulfport’s ordinance also protects sweet bay magnolia, red maple, sweet gum, and magnolia grandiflora. In Ocean Springs, if a tree dies on a construction site within three years, it’s considered that the construction company took it down without a permit and they are fined.

“They’re pretty heavy and will close down businesses,” he said. “Fines range from $5,000 to $10,000. It’s not slowing down construction though. Most companies just think it’s the price of doing business.”

Capo says he likes to promote the economic advantage of saving trees because it’s widely known that neighborhoods and shopping areas with trees are more valuable. He feels there are three mindsets when it comes to trees. One sees trees as an obstacle to progress; a burden and expense. The second sees them as money and a resource that can be harvested. The third sees trees from a more aesthetic, spiritual point of view and feels they add a sense of security and peace to the environment.

“There is good logic and truth in each group,” he said.

Rick Olson has served as the state urban and community forestry coordinator since 1999 and has worked in the industry since 1991. He promotes trees in urban environments, working to take care of them and encourage quality growth.

Although he has little contact with builders, he is available to help them plan and says the Forestry Commission has a publication available on how to save trees on construction sites. “Preserving Trees in Construction Sites” was produced with a grant and is available at www.msucares.com/pubs/publications/p2339.pdf.

“We’re not trying to discourage development but want to see quality development,” he said. “That means not taking down all the trees and starting over. It takes 25 years for them to grow back.”

Olson says his office can show developers how to do a little pre-construction planning before they put the bulldozer on a site. He says studies show that rental properties with landscaping rent quicker and tenants stay longer, and people will pay up to 11% more for goods and services in shopping areas with trees.

Removing all trees from a site is unsightly, causes soil erosion and storm water runoff and destroys wildlife habitat, he added.

“On the Coast, people have realized that trees are tied to tourism and quality of life and developers are trying to do a good job,” Olson said.

Reed Nelson, director of business development for White Construction Company, said dealing with tree ordinances on the Coast is part of the business and they will work with the cities to protect trees.

“We usually have the architect and builder meet with them and work to keep trees,” he said.

Biloxi arborist Eric Nolan cited residential subdivision developers Scott Delano and Mike Boudreaux as good examples of working with the city. “Delano did the tree survey first and then drew the lot lines for Taylor Oaks subdivision, and Boudreaux wanted to save more trees than I recommended for the Savannah subdivision,” he said. “They realize the value that trees add to their developments.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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