by Calvin Ishee

At the June meeting of the Pass Christian Planning Commission, Commissioner’s voted unanimously 8-0 to approve variances that could lead to a new Doctor’s Office just off Menge Avenue and Second Street. In spite of objections from a group of local residents and one nonresident, the Commission wasn’t swayed by their concerns about tree removal, drainage, the Smart Code as well as increased traffic.

The application for the new Doctor’s Office was submitted by property owner Bill Wingfield of 915 East Scenic Drive. Wingfield commented that they had moved to the Pass twelve years ago because they admired and appreciated the City and it’s architecture, it’s sense of community as well as it’s history. He further commented about his commitment to the City and his intent to design a project that would be in harmony with the neighborhood and Pass Christian Community.

Commission Chairman Tom Phares began the Public Hearing by stating that although a Public Hearing wasn’t required for the project, the owner chose to include the community accordingly.  Wingfield could’ve bypassed the Commission and gone directly to the Building Application Process.

In her report to the Commission, Danit Simon, Pass Christian City Planner added “By right, the applicant could have constructed a building that is not in keeping with the neighborhood, that is denser, taller, with a maximum of 70% lot coverage, and have larger buildings on smaller lots. The project presented is to create a commercial project that is more in keeping with the surrounding residential and commercial neighborhood”.

Simon also noted that the applicant had coordinated a tree mitigation plan with the Pass Christian Tree Board and had received their full support.  In fact in an email from Donna Newton, Chairwoman of the Pass Christian Tree Board dated June 23, 2020, Newton states, “The Tree Board recommends that the Mixed-Use Development Project at the corner of Menge Ave and Second St be accepted as is”.  The email further states, “The project is a definite upgrade to the corner and that is unusual to say about many commercial properties. The choices made by Mr. Wingfield will benefit every tree remaining on the property”.

Wingfield also stated that he will plant or donate to the City, new trees that will replace those that were removed. Commissioner Michael Lizana stated that he was extremely impressed by the amount of detail provided by the applicant. Commissioner Ken Austin commented,  “I have never seen a more thoughtful, well put together and well designed project as this. The existing office in Gulfport is beautiful, including landscaping and trees similar to what is proposed here”.  He ended by saying, “the applicant has created a project that will enhance the City”.

With respect to traffic concerns, Simon stated that she had  discussed those concerns with Pass Christian Police Chief Daren Freeman and he had replied that the anticipated traffic increase would not be a problem. Chief Freeman added, “in my three years here I haven’t seen any major accidents or traffic problems” and feel like the small amount of office traffic wouldn’t be a major problem.   Furthermore according to Pass Christian Mayor Chipper McDermott, years ago while he was still a Board of Alderman member, there was a local effort to widen Menge Avenue from Second Street to Scenic Drive. However that effort was defeated by some of the same people that are now clamoring that Menge Ave. must be widened to accommodate growing traffic on Menge Ave.

Those either rising in opposition or had concerns to the project included Cindy Easterling, James Wilkinson, Gwendolyn Cannon, Tyler Watters, Tut Kinney, Francis Hoffman and Caroline Perrone. Those in favor included Avra O’Dwyer, Daniel Sullivan, Elaine Wilkinson and Edie Yarborough Sullivan.

Chairman Phares summarized by stating that the Planning Commission considers the “greater good” of the entire community. He added “We need to consider the entire community and there are many citizens who will be grateful to have a local doctor’s office which will provide an essential and needed service to the community”.

The project still has a long way to go so look for future updates in the Gazebo Gazette.