Oxford aldermen to consider city land donation

Published 10:35 am Thursday, September 8, 2016

Before city officials can even consider whether to donate 1.7 acres of land to the LOU-Home organization, the land would have to go through the rezoning process.

Last week, Fred Laurenzo, chairman of LOU-Home, proposed to the aldermen during a budget hearing that they donate the land around the water tower on Molly Barr Road for a new 10-lot subdivision aimed at providing homes to 10 families in Oxford who otherwise couldn’t afford to buy a home in the city.

Laurenzo formally requested the donation during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

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Mayor Pat Patterson said the board was not ready to vote on the proposal.

“We have legal obligations,” Patterson said.

Rezoning a challenge

A major hurdle would be rezoning the property. Currently, the property is zoned as open public property.

City Attorney Pope Mallette told the aldermen they can legally donate land for affordable housing. However, the city would have to go through the regular rezoning process, which could take several months.

City planners would first have to make the determination that the land meets the requirements for rezoning, which is whether there was a mistake when originally zoning. If not, it has to be proven there has been a change in the neighborhood to warrant rezoning and that there is a need in the community.

Once planners make that determination, they make a recommendation to the Board of Aldermen, who will then consider the rezoning in a three-reading process that includes a public hearing.

Laurenzo said he was disappointed that aldermen could not vote Tuesday on the proposal.

“This project won’t solve our entire problem, but it’s an important first tangible step,” he told the aldermen. “We need our elected representatives to make a statement to the community that you’re serious about doing affordable housing. That would encourage action from the county governments and private business sector to join us in tackling this problem.”

Preliminary drawings show 10 1,200-square feet homes on the property with small lots.

LOU-Home was formed in 2007 to help manage Community Green, the 20-house subdivision off Molly Barr Road that was created when the University of Mississippi donated old staff homes they were removing off campus to make room for student housing.

Not in favor

While the meeting Tuesday was not a public hearing, Patterson allowed some public comment in regards to LOU-Home’s request. Two homeowners living in the nearby Oxford Creek subdivision spoke out against the project, citing concerns about traffic and destroying the natural beauty of the very steeply sloped property, questioning if the property was the best option to build homes. One resident asked why LOU-Home didn’t pursue property in the county since it was cheaper than land inside the city limits.

LOU-Home board member Cristen Hemmins said buying land in the county, while cheaper to purchase, becomes more expensive when putting in the infrastructure needed to support the subdivision. She also said the goal is to have the subdivision close to the Oxford-University Transit bus line for those with transportation issues.

“These homes would go to good, working families who deserve to live in the city they work in,” she said.

Alderman Janice Antonow said that while the 10-home subdivision wouldn’t solve the affordable housing problem in Oxford, the city needs to start “chipping away” at the issue. However, she expressed concerns about the rezoning allowing the type of development LOU-Home wants to create.

Patterson instructed City Planner Judy Daniel to examine the property as to whether it meets the rezoning requirements and come back to the board with a recommendation at a later date.