Leaders continue comprehensive planning
By Alyssa Schnugg and Rob Sigler
There’s little debate that Oxford and Lafayette County are growing in population, and with Oxford leaders considering more annexation, in size as well.
Controlling that growth over the next 20 years is a task both governments have been working on to make sure that growth is done in a way to preserve what’s special about the Oxford-Lafayette community.
In March 2015, the Orion Planning Group was hired to create Vision 2037, along with then-city planner Andrea Correll and the Oxford Planning Department. A draft was made available online and at the Oxford and Lafayette County Public Library for the public to review. A steering committee was formed and there were several public hearings held.
However, Correll left her position with the city in March and Oxford’s new City Planner Judy Daniel came on board, which delayed the progress of the comprehensive plan.
“It took me about six weeks to get up to speed on the situation with the plan and (Land Use) map, while also learning and working with the ongoing current planning work (boards and commissions),” she told the EAGLE. “ But we are now starting to roll.”
Daniel said the city staff is finishing up the draft of the future land use map and will be going over it with internal staff before starting the process for final consideration. That process will include talks with the mayor and aldermen, a final presentation to the steering committee, a possible public presentation primarily to explain the map recommendations. The draft plan and map will go before the planning commission for its recommendation, and then to the mayor and Board of Aldermen for their consideration.
“We hope that process will be concluded by late summer,” Daniel said.
The plan addresses a number of critical issues for Oxford, including the natural environment, historic resources, land uses, development form and character, transportation, housing, economic development, infrastructure and similar issues. The city’s last comprehensive plan was prepared in 2004.
The Vision 2037 comprehensive plan has four major components to keep Oxford the way residents and leaders want:
— Preservation of existing neighborhoods and the Courthouse Square.
— Greatly enhanced form and function of commercial areas.
— Frame the basic direction for expansion and align future development in those areas with Oxford’s adopted Guiding Principals.
Align the remaining developable places with Oxford’s Planning Principles.
The new plan will steer away from just developing land based on zoning, and focus on various types of land uses that include suburban corridors; suburban centers; traditional neighborhoods; urban corridors; urban centers and the urban core, which is the downtown Square.
While Oxford city officials are nearing the end of updating their comprehensive plan, county officials are getting deeper into modernizing their plan for the county’s current and future growth.
A steering committee involved in the county comprehensive plan met last week to hear from county, city and university officials about their immediate and expected growth. The committee, along with a transportation committee, is gathering information that can be used to update the comprehensive plan.
Ian Banner, the architect in charge of the University of Mississippi master plan, told the committee it was “time to pull the engine” as the UM master plan just completed a five-year cycle. He said it goes hand-in-hand with the university’s strategic plan.
The unprecedented student population growth on campus has been quite a task for school officials, and the university has started growth projections for the next 10 to 15 years.
“Master plans are fluid, working, living documents,” Banner said. “What we are doing is putting in pieces for the master plan for the next five, 10 and 15 years. It means we’re not guessing. We’re not driving around in cars pointing at potential building sites. This is how we think we plan, logically, long-term with solid goals in mind.”
University is ready
Banner said the university is looking at student growth reaching 30,000 over the next 10 to 15 years, which means they have calculated an additional 2 million square feet needed on campus. Currently the campus is roughly 6 million square feet. It will likely require expanding upwards.
“If we were to add four-story buildings, that is all you would need to do to achieve an additional 2 million square feet on campus,” Banner said. It would include possibly four more parking structures, according to Banner, as well as removing the Tad Pad
He said the construction of the Pavilion and a new parking garage created opportunities.
An increase in student population also means an increase in vehicles and creates transportation issues. One solution is a vehicular loop around campus.
“This will give us a chance to get cars away from the center of campus and put people where they belong, in the center of campus so they can walk to class,” Banner said.
Banner said the most important thing to consider is how do you treasure, protect and grow “without spoiling what you have to begin with.”
With the county and city faced with the crush of student-purpose housing taking over much of the community, Banner was asked about housing on campus to accommodate the growth. Banner said the university currently has about 4,000 beds. Many of those are for freshmen.
The university is working to keep pace to make sure freshmen remain on campus by adding 200 to 400 beds per year, according to Perry Sansing, UM’s associate general counsel and special assistant to the chancellor. The university opened a new residence hall at Northgate this school year and Sansing said another 500 beds will be available in August.
“Our goal going forward is keeping them on campus,” Sansing said. “I can tell you, the previous chancellor and current chancellor are very attentive to the idea and notion that we don’t want Oxford to be overrun with apartment complexes that get vacant within five years.”