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Oxford Commons gets landscape plan approved

As building inside Oxford Commons continues to take place, developer David Blackburn wants to make sure the entire area is planned right so it’s a place everyone will be proud of 10 or 20 years down the road, he said Monday during an Oxford Planning Commission meeting.

To help make sure enough green areas and tree canopy is preserved in a smart manner, Blackburn asked the commission to grant a variance from the city’s landscape code and in return, he plans to set aside 60 acres of undisturbed land.

Development of Oxford Commons continues to occur at a brisk pace. Rather than regularly amending the PUD, Blackburn wanted to finalize the remaining undeveloped residential area, which is about 426 acres. About 366 acres will be cleared for the development of about 1,048 homes and 121 acres of retail/commercial space.

Taking into account the rate of mitigation, exemptions and credits, it has been determined by the applicant that the total number of inches to be mitigated is 76,571 inches, or 38,285, 2-inch caliper trees, at an average cost of $200 a tree and for a total of cost of $7,657,100 to be planted or paid into the tree escrow account.

Blackburn said that kind of money would be a big financial burden to his company and would put the entire development in jeopardy.

Cowan Hunter, vice chair of the Oxford Tree Board, said Blackburn’s plan was a “thoughtful” plan for the development.

“Our goal as the Tree Board is not to have a ton of money in an account … but to save as much of our tree canopy as we can,” Hunter said at the meeting. “It allows for large undisturbed areas and large buffers around the streams and lakes. It gives some certainty on what will be preserved. The tree board supports this plan.”

Mayor Pat Patterson attended the meeting as well and spoke of the city’s support for the project.

However, some of the commission members had a few concerns about allowing 366 acres to be cleared.

Blackburn said some of those acres are not wooded areas but meadows and that the plan calls for each house lot to plant five trees.

“This isn’t something that will happen overnight,” he told the commission. “This is 20 years down the road so as each area is developed and those trees are planted, there won’t be 336 acres of empty land.”

Blackburn pointed out other Oxford neighborhoods that were once bulldozed and then trees replanted that are now green and lush.

“The Avent Park area was once clear cut and now look at it,” Blackburn said.

After about an hour discussion, the commission approved the variance unanimously with conditions requiring the 60 acres to be recorded with the Lafayette County Chancery Clerk giving the city an easement to the land.