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U Club finally gets nod of approval

After being turned down twice by the Oxford Planning Commission, a new student-housing development was approved Tuesday by the Oxford Board of Aldermen; however, the approval was not one easily granted by many members of the board.

“Broke my heart to vote for that,” said Alderman John Morgan after the meeting.

Developers for U Club Townhomes were shot down in April after several residents from surrounding neighborhoods expressed concerns about the development being built close to their single-family neighborhoods.

An appeal was filed with the aldermen; however, after meeting with several of the residents, mostly in the St. Andrew’s Circle and Country Club Road neighborhoods, American Campus Communities amended the site plan to address some of their concerns and asked the aldermen to pause the appeal to give them a chance to go back before the planning commission with the revised site plan, which they did in June. However, the measure died from a lack of a second to the motion to approve.

The development is proposed to have 66, two-story duplex buildings, with 132 units each containing three bedrooms for a total of 528 beds on about 23 acres of land. Close to 6 acres would be left undisturbed to provide a buffer to surrounding neighborhoods.

Some concerns

The property is located to the north of Jackson Avenue West, east of Price Hill Road and west of the old Oxford Mall. Most of the concerns from Price Hill residents who spoke Tuesday were due to the development having one entrance and exit off Price Hill Road into the development. Some felt the addition of so many more cars would create a safety risk at the Price Hill and Jackson Avenue intersection.

However, the property has been zoned two-unit residential since the 1970s. The developers weren’t seeking a zoning change or even a variance. The plans were reviewed by the Site Plan Review Committee and two traffic studies said the development would not have a significant impact on surrounding roads. The Planning Department recommended approval as the site plan met all of the city’s codes and requirements.

To deny the plan could have resulted in a lawsuit against the city of Oxford.

“We wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in court, would we?” asked Alderman Ulysses “Coach” Howell to City Attorney Pope Mallette, who said he couldn’t answer that question in an open meeting.

City Planner Judy Daniel said student housing is best located close to the campus because it can often reduce traffic. The developers have worked out a deal with the University of Mississippi to build a ramp connecting U Club to a sidewalk that leads to the buses that carry students to campus from the Jackson Avenue Center.

Chuck Carroll, with American Campus, told the aldermen the university supported student housing being built close to campus.

“Of course, they do,” Mayor Pat Patterson said. “Then they don’t have to build more housing.”

Aldermen Janice Antonow said she reviewed the plan closely and looked over every city code she could think of to make sure the plan met all of them.

“Sometimes things happen for a reason,” she said. “I hate ever having to overturn a decision by our Planning Commission, but if they hadn’t turned the plan down the first time, we wouldn’t have had this second plan that better addresses many of the neighbor’s concerns.”

The vote was 5 to 1 to approve the project with Alderman Jason Bailey the dissenting vote.

“I don’t see how 500-plus cars making about 5 trips a day would not make a significant impact on the neighborhoods,” he said. “It’s a public safety issue to me.”

Alderman Preston Taylor recused himself from the discussion.