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Very little public comment on downtown Oxford garage

A handful of Oxford residents spoke out against having a downtown parking garage during a public hearing held Tuesday.

The hearing was held during the Oxford Board of Aldermen’s regular meeting at City Hall.

Three people cited various reasons for their objection to the garage that included concerns about the increase of traffic on Jefferson Avenue and other surrounding neighborhood streets and whether there is a true need for a garage now that parking meters have helped reduce occupancy in premium spots on the Square.

Last month, the Downtown Parking Advisory Council made a recommendation to the Board of Aldermen to approve going forward with the construction of a downtown parking garage in the city-owned parking lot behind the Oxford University Club. The board voted to hold a public hearing Tuesday to give community members a chance to voice their opinions.

Vanessa Gregory said while she believes it’s a good thing to plan for the future, she wasn’t convinced Oxford needs a parking garage currently.

“Our streets downtown are small and tight and great to walk around on,” she told the aldermen. You’ll have to hire police to direct the traffic that will greatly impact those neighborhoods. I’m also concerned about priority. We’re using city revenue that could be used to pay for other things like parks, better sidewalks or giving money to the schools.”

Currence likes idea

Local restaurateur John Currence spoke in favor of the parking garage.

“As a business owner, my initial thoughts about paid parking were of complete apprehension,” Currence told the aldermen. “Turns out it was the best thing the city could have done. We’re removed businesses and employees who were not conscious of the need to preserve spaces for guests and customers.”

Currence said the issue now is having enough parking spaces in the free lots to accommodate Square employees and guests to the Square.

“In order to take some pressure off the Square, a parking deck will make a significant difference and offer the city some interesting opportunities for the use of the deck,” Currence said. “I think it would be a very welcomed addition.”

Alderman Janice Antonow submitted four letters into the record from local residents opposing the garage but could not attend the meeting.

Parking Council Chairman Tom Sharpe said the council looked very carefully at the location of the garage, including potential traffic issues.

“The city is going to be putting in a turning lane at Jefferson Avenue and North Lamar (Boulevard),” he said.

Sharpe also addressed concerns made by one community member that the garage, if built, be done so with special care taken to have it aesthetically pleasing and matching the other structures on the historic downtown Square.

“We will make sure the façade is one that compliments the downtown district,” he said.

A public hearing was also held Tuesday for a change to the enforcement hours of the paid parking meters from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. to midnight. No comments were made from the public.

A vote on the parking garage and the extended hours will take place 5 p.m. on Dec. 6 during the aldermen’s monthly meeting.