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Parking leaders put off garage

The Downtown Parking Advisory Counsel decided it still did not have enough information to make a recommendation to the Oxford Board of Aldermen as whether a parking garage is needed; and if so, how much it would cost and where it should be built.

The commission met Friday for its regular meeting at City Hall. After Parking Director Matt Davis gave the monthly parking report on the meters, the commission went into executive session, much to the chagrin of local attorney David Hill, his wife Maryann, and daughter, Summer Hill Vinson.

In 2013, the study was done to examine two possible locations for a parking garage — behind the Oxford-University Club in the area commonly known as the city car lot, and behind City Hall. The study showed examples of a smaller garage in each site, and a larger garage. The commission, at that time, thought the City Hall spot would be the best if the city built the larger garage. However, that it would mean an existing condominium in the rear of the parking lot would have to be removed. That property belongs to Hill, and Vinson lives there. Hill and Vinson lives there. Hill and Vinson have openly expressed they do not want to sell their property nor have the city try to take it from them through eminent domain.

City officials have not said they planned to buy or take the Hill’s property, nor has the parking commission made an official recommendation that a parking garage is needed in the downtown area.

Boards are allowed by law to enter into executive session where they meet behind closed doors; however, the state statute sets specific reasons for doing so, including personnel issues, litigation and the “transaction of business and discussion regarding the prospective purchase, sale or leasing of lands.”

Once the commission decides to go into executive session, it must report back out to the public who left the room, why it is meeting and only that topic can be discussed. The board must then report if it voted on the subject.

On Friday, Hill challenged the reason for the executive session when commissioner Kevin Frye announced the commission was meeting to discuss the possible purchase of property, adding it was not concerning Hill’s property.

Hill said he wasn’t satisfied with that information and that the public was entitled to know more about why a board was meeting behind closed doors and went back into the meeting. After a few minutes, Oxford Police Chief Joey East quietly escorted him out.

After the executive session was over, commission chair Tom Sharpe announced the board decided that it did not yet have enough information to make its recommendation to the Oxford Board of Aldermen.

Vinson later said she was pleased the commission did not rush into a vote.

Garage talk ongoing

The talk of a parking garage died down for a couple of years after the city put in stricter parking enforcement around the Square which helped move the cars and created more empty spaces.

In September 2014, the city started a paid-parking system and metered most of the downtown parking spaces around the Square, leaving the outlining city-owned lots free.

The paid parking also  has helped to move cars but occupancy studies have shown that during business hours and dinner time, most of the spaces are full, especially Wednesday-Saturday.

The need for a parking garage came back up and in the fall, the commission was tasked again to determine if a parking garage was needed and then if so, where the best place would be and how the city pay for it.

The commission in December went over parking revenue figures and determined that if the city charged $2 a day for a parking garage and upped the hourly parking rate up to $1.25 and maybe increased enforcement to midnight, the city could make enough money to pay the $800,000 a year bond payment for a garage.

However, once determined a garage is needed, where it would go has been the biggest hurdle for the commission. Sharpe said the commission would again discuss the pros and cons of each possible location during its next regular meeting at 9 a.m. April 1.