The CEO of multi-million dollar tech firm — and a Gulfport native who now lives in Biloxi — is leading a group of residents who oppose a development that would bring a new subdivision to Woolmarket and cut down protected magnolia trees.
Mapping firm GEO-Jobe was hired by developer Greg Williams to create a topographical map of the property. What Williams didn’t know is the firm’s CEO, David Hansen, lives on 11 acres across the street from the site of the proposed 52-lot subdivision on Shorecrest Road.
After conducting a survey of the property using drone photography, Hansen says he realized the development was ecologically unsustainable — and mobilized a group of local residents to oppose the subdivision.
He believes the project will pose a threat to nearby wetlands, involve the cutting of more protected trees than the developers claim and endanger a historic home on the property, among other issues.
Hansen is using his unique professional background to aid in the fight. He’s created a website, www.savewoolmarket.com, which lays out residents’ reasons for opposing the development. The website features drone photography and 3D maps of the property, as well as links to a petition against the proposed development. So far, 200 residents have signed on.
Speaking at a City Council meeting last week, he said, “I will tell you one thing that ‘FoFo’ has said about me,” referring to Biloxi mayor Andrew Gilich. “He has said that at times I can speak just as quickly as he can, and get what I want out of a group, so we’ll test that and see what happens.”
Hansen was there to familiarize the council with the case against the subdivision ahead of its upcoming July 5 meeting, when the City Council will officially consider it. Hansen is lobbying the Council to hold a public hearing on the development, a plan he says several members are amenable to considering.
Saving protected trees on Biloxi property
In a recent meeting of the Biloxi Planning Commission, Hansen was among around 30 Woolmarket residents who attended to voice their opposition.
On June 16, the commission was considering two requests by Williams, the developer — one for the subdivision, and one for the cutting of four protected magnolia trees. Williams has conditionally purchased the property, pending approval of the subdivision by the City Council, and retained former Gulfport city engineer Kris Riemann as lead engineer on the project.
Hansen disputes the developers’ claim that only four protected trees will need to be cut, writing on his website that “the amount of proposed removed trees is untrue and shows [Williams’] lack of experience or knowledge in the process of developing a subdivision along with his blatant disregards for our community.”
The commission voted by 9-4 to approve the subdivision but sent the request for cutting trees to the city’s Tree Committee to clear up confusion regarding the number of protected trees that would need to be cut.
The vice chair of Biloxi’s Tree Committee, Carol Campbell, read aloud a letter from the commission expressing its concern that the development would actually entail cutting 20 protected trees, a figure based on an estimate by city arborist Eric Nolan.
Linda Bridges spoke out against the proposed development at the planning commission meeting.
The Woolmarket resident said she grew up in a home on the property that was likely built in the 1840s, noting that her grandmother raised 11 children there. While the house is not on the historical register, she wants it to be and doesn’t want the structure torn down or damaged.
“This house has got so much history and this property has got so much history,” Bridges said.
Biloxi attorney Biloxi attorney Robert Schwartz says the developers’ plan will involve the relocation rather than the destruction of the home.
Biloxi attorney speaks out
Schwartz addressed the commission on behalf of Riemann, who had contracted COVID-19 and didn’t attend.
Schwartz told the commission that the development was carefully designed to minimize the number of protected trees that would be cut. He said only four protected trees would be cut, and that these were necessary to aid the building of roads designed to circumvent the property’s other protected trees. He said around 200 trees on the property would not be affected.
Schwartz also defended the development, saying the opponents of the development simply don’t want a subdvision development in their backyard.
The attorney also noted that Hansen had himself previously bid to buy the property.