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Planning Commission OKs residential in commercial zone

While the city of Oxford is in a transitional period with managing its future growth, the Oxford Planning Commission is tasked with trying to find a balance between the city’s current zoning and future zoning codes that could change in a few months.

Last month, the planning commission and the Oxford Board of Aldermen approved the new comprehensive plan, Vision 2037, and the new Land Use Map that veers from traditional — and some say outdated — zoning classification and uses land use types like Urban, Traditional and Suburban. The plan calls for future development to be more mixed-use, to create places where people can live, shop, work and play within walking distance.

On Tuesday, the commission approved two variances, allowing developers to build residential units on top of commercial businesses on University Avenue and North Lamar Boulevard.

Developer Andy O’Bryan is hoping to build a three-story mixed use structure on the corner of University Avenue and S. 17 Street in the former CarQuest location. No site plan was presented Tuesday as first the commission had to consider whether to grant the variance allowing residential units in General Business-zoned property, which the commissioners voted unanimously to grant.

Commissioners also approved another variance request by landowner Johnny Morgan, to allow residential on property zoned Neighborhood Business at the intersection of North Lamar and Pleasant Drive. Currently, four structures are on the property that would be demolished and replaced with two, three-story buildings with commercial use on the first floor and residential units on the second and third floors.

However, later on in the meeting, the commission tabled a request from a developer to rezone about 7 acres off Highway 30 near Oxford Elementary from Single Family Residential to Neighborhood Business, which veers from the recommendations of the new Land Use Map that has the property’s recommended use as Traditional Neighborhood Business. Before rezoning can take place, a developer must prove that there is a change in character in the neighborhood to warrant the rezoning and there is a need in the area for the proposed zoning.

Developers, JTM Inc., suggested that the addition of Oxford Commons Boulevard has increased traffic in the area and that the change matches the recommendations of the new Land Use Map and Vision 2037.

However, some residents living near the proposed property said the character of the neighborhood hasn’t changed and they’d prefer to leave it residential.

Attorney Brad Best, representing the Mize family who owns three plots near the property said the developer failed to prove the two requirements of change and need.

“The last thing we want to see there is a strip mall,” Best said.

James Hunter, representing JTM said the plans were to have two, professional business buildings on the property.

Resident Ed Hood said he’s lived in the area for 74 years, and other than the elementary school being built, the neighborhood, which consists of about 10 homes, hasn’t changed much over the years.

The Planning Department is still working on the new codes and zoning to match the Land Use Map and neighborhood types recommended in Vision 2037.City Planner Judy Daniel said the new codes could be ready for adoption in the early part of 2017.

Commissioner Mark Huelse said he was concerned about approving the rezoning until the new codes are in place. Commissioner John Bradley agreed with Best and said he did not feel the developer proved a change in character or a need for Neighborhood Business zoning in the area.

The commissioner tabled the request and asked Hunter to speak to the developers to see if they’d be willing to change the request to rezone to Professional Business rather than Neighborhood Business and resubmit the rezoning request.