Oxford Commons homeowners and land developers filled the City Hall Courtroom to oppose rezoning requests in Monday’s Oxford Planning Commission meeting.
The meeting stretched on for more than three hours as angry citizens and business owners rose to speak their minds on the issue.
After previous disputes among property owners about the limits on density and uses allowed in the Oxford Commons development, owners of Kenlan Development-Oxford, LLC and Rebel Hospitality, LLC filed rezoning requests on Dec. 4 for five lots in Oxford Commons totaling about 6.5 acres. They want the lots to be rezoned out of the current Planned Unit Development (PUD) District, which is restricted to commercial use only, to allow for mixed-use development, which could include residential properties.
“I think it’s a fair and reasonable way to move forward,” said Lance Forsdick, owner of Kenlan Development.
Before the new Land Development Code and Zoning Map was adopted in November 2017, the city did not conduct in-depth research of the existing zoning districts of Oxford Commons, including the PUDs, which have been revised at least three times since 2004. While the city took comments from property owners during the Land Development Code process last year, David Blackburn, president of the Blackburn Group and an Oxford Commons developer, was the only person to comment about the Oxford Commons development. At that time, he requested that the 2015 PUD – the most recent version – be left as is. But after looking into Forsdick’s rezoning request, the planning staff decided that several changes still need to be made to the PUD to prevent future conflicts.
“We want Oxford Commons to succeed,” City Planner Judy Daniel said in the meeting. “It has the potential to be the neighborhood on the east side of Oxford… We want to make it right, and we believe these changes are needed.”
The planning staff has suggested either rezoning the entire PUD district – or at least the commercial portions – back to mixed-use development or modifying and updating the PUD’s regulatory structure to correct past mistakes and provide a better system for managing the properties at Oxford Commons.
Early in Monday’s meeting, Oxford Commons resident Gary Stringer asked the commission to postpone the matter until the next monthly meeting. He said the public did not receive proper notice about the meeting and didn’t have ample time to consider the planning staff’s proposal.
“Not everybody had an opportunity to review this,” Stringer said. “Going forward with these matters at this time is a violation.”
After discussion between commissioners, Commissioner Duncan Gray made a motion to deny Stringer’s request, hoping to handle the rezoning issue that night, and the motion was passed.
But more than two hours and several opposition speeches later, the commission ultimately tabled the issue.
Blackburn spoke largely on behalf of Oxford Commons residents.
“This is a change from everything that the city and I represented to all these homeowners,” Blackburn said. “Would it make me more money? Yes. Would it make me a hypocrite? Yes. It’s going against everything everyone’s ever agreed to, and there’s no way around it.”
Blackburn explained that he met with planning staff while they created the Land Development Code and that they all agreed to the current PUD.
“I was worried about that underlying zoning,” Blackburn said. “Specific things in the PUD are critical. That’s what every person in here has relied on. That’s what we made a plan on. The planning staff authored that document; there was no confusion. I was assured there was going to be no changes to the PUD in that meeting. I would consider this [rezoning] a significant change.”
Oxford Commons resident Jim Buchanan said it wasn’t fair that he and 150 other Oxford Commons homeowners should pay the consequences of a rezoning that could allow for four- or five-story buildings and more traffic in the area.
“We do not want a higher density,” he said. “We like it how it is.”
Another resident said rezoning could lead to the construction of a four- or five-story building within viewing distance of the school’s playground.
“I don’t know about you, but I [have a] concern with that. That is an atmosphere for predators to hide,” he said. “Parents, police officers, teachers – those that are trained to spot that kind of activity – cannot do that when it hides behind private walls.
“When one of those buildings will rest on the corner directly facing Della [Davidson Elementary], looking over their playground, when my son is at that school, when my daughter [or] my third son is at that school, I have concern,” he added. “The recommendation that is made is irresponsible, and it does not take into consideration one of the biggest things that my family invests in, and that is safety.”
After back-and-forth discussion between commissioners, developers and Oxford Commons residents, Commissioner John Bradley told the crowd what they wanted to hear.
“I’m in favor of rejecting the request for rezoning,” he said, and the audience loudly applauded. “I am, at this time, accepting what Blackburn says. I do not think greater density in this area is a good idea.”
The commission will take up the matter again in its Feb. 12 meeting. In the meantime, Oxford Commons developers will work together on a proposal to update the existing Oxford Commons PUD to avoid rezoning and present it to the planning staff.
By Randall Haley, associate editor of HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.HERE!