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Oxford officials consider revising law to find more of a balance

The Oxford Planning Department is seeking input from the city’s historic preservation commissions on how to create a balance between keeping the charm of Oxford’s downtown by preventing older homes from unnecessary demolition while giving homeowners the opportunity to demolish a home that cannot be saved and rebuild a new home.

The challenge is to find the right words that would allow for those people truly wishing to live on the lot to rebuild while discouraging people to demolish a run-down home only to turn around and sell the lot for financial gain.

Currently, the ordinance requires a property owner to submit either plans to rebuild a house along with a request for demolition, or a landscaping plan; however, if a landscaping plan is approved, the property owner cannot rebuild for 48 months.

The requirements for demolition of residential buildings in historic districts were added about four years ago in reaction to a perception that too many homes were being requested for removal with no plans to rebuild on the lot; however, city planners say the wording may be too restrictive after a few cases have come before planners where the homeowner wants to rebuild but due to the home being in bad disrepair, could not financially afford to rebuild right away.

“It is to the advantage of the city to have homes rebuilt on lots where homes are removed,” said City Planner Judy Daniel Monday at the Courthouse Square Historic Preservation Commission meeting.

Daniel had prepared language that would allow a homeowner to submit a landscaping plan and then after six months could petition the planning department relief from the restrictive covenant by submitting and obtaining a Certificate of Appropriateness for new construction plans on the property.

However, on Monday morning, Daniel reconsidered the proposed addition to the ordinance.

Last year, a homeowner received permission to demolish a noncontributing home but did not want to submit the landscaping plan, claiming he had intentions of rebuilding on the lot but not right away, although before the required 48-month wait. He appealed to the Board of Aldermen who sent the case back to the Planning Commission. By that time, he submitted plans for a new home.

“However, this morning I saw a ‘For Sale’ sign on the empty lot,” Daniel said. “So he was able to get around the landscaping plan requirement. He had a house plan approved but the lot can stay there uncovered for a long time. It’s less expensive to get a house plan approved than landscape the lot.”

The commissioners said they agreed the 48-month waiting period may be too long for rebuilding but the ordinance needed wording to disincentivize developers from demolishing and selling off lots.

Daniel said she will discuss the ordinance with the residential Historic Preservation Commission as well and work with her fellow planners to review the ordinance again.

Also on Monday, the commission approved a sign and awning for a new dress shop, Dsquared, at 918 Jackson Ave. and new 12-pane windows above The Corner Bar at 1006 Jackson Ave. The commission also gave a complimentary review for reconstruction plans for jcg apparel that was damaged last month when a truck drove into the front of the building. The commission will review the formal Certificate of Appropriateness request during a special meeting on April 12.