Freeport Mayor, Mickey Marse has received national attention after he put a city ban on palm trees. Freeport will be the first government in Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties to prohibit palm trees in new developments.
Driving through Freeport in Walton County, pine trees and oak trees outnumber palm trees more than one thousand to one. That statistic should remain the same due to a new developmental ban on the use of palm trees, all because a city official didn't like what he was seeing.
Angry didn't describe how Mayor Marse felt when he saw that a large oak tree was cut down to develop a Freeport shopping center. Marse had talked to the developer two weeks before the tree was cut down, encouraging him to plan around it. After a weekend hunting trip, the mayor returned to find the tree gone. This spurred him to take action.
His action is a proposed ban that would keep developers from replacing native trees like pines, and oaks with palms. The mayor's decision has caused big noise beyond the panhandle.
He was interviewed by a reporter in Miami and he says his biggest critic has been the editor of a Fort Walton Beach newspaper.
"We're not tailoring the city of Freeport after Ft. Walton Beach. We don't want it to look like Fort Walton Beach. We don't want it to look like Miami Beach. We want it to look like Freeport. We'd like to keep our own identity."
Despite the spotlight and controversy, Mayor Marse's decision still stands, with three main reasons behind it. One, the palm tree is not native to the Freeport area. Two, it's not fair to remove a two-thousand dollar oak tree and replace it with a one-hundred and twenty five dollar palm. And the finally there is a Xeriscape ordinance in effect. Xeriscape's goal is to create a visually attractive landscape that's water efficient. Palm trees are far from that.
"Xeriscape ordinances, basically you're supposed to use native plants and palms aren't native here."
Developers like Buddy Runnels seem to be taking the mayor's proposed ban in stride. "We agree with him one hundred percent, I support him."
The proposed ban will be in effect by the end of summer.