Oxford City Council heard the first reading of the proposal to rezone a parcel comprised of two areas between W. Spring St. and W. Walnut St. at the latest council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
The proposal would up-zone the two areas from their current status as General Business (GB) and Residential Office (RO) to Single, Two, or Three Family Mile Square Residential (R3MS).
“We all know if this were to go through it would spell more student housing,” city councilor Glenn Ellerbe said.
The proposal was one of the more contentious items on the agenda, as the meeting was filled with members of the public who wished to speak to the issue.
Representatives from Opus Development Company, the petitioner for the proposal, said this is an opportunity to bring a prime location back to life and to expand the tax base for the community.
“We would like to propose a reactivation of Walnut and Collins,” Ben Angelo, an Opus representative, said. “One’s a dead end and the other is a gravel parking lot — and we want to promote circulation of traffic in the area.”
Bill Snavely, chairman of the planning commission, said that while Opus may have good intentions, their plan does not fit into the vision the planning commission has for Oxford.
“These are sincere developers,” Snavely said. “The commission was impressed with them and they had a lovely plan in many respects… but is it appropriate to suddenly change our vision of our town?”
Snavely expressed concern that Opus had not met their “burden of proof” in showing whether more student housing really is needed in Oxford.
Kelly Ansel, the owner of Whistle Stop, a pet and garden supply store, said she is hopeful council will approve the proposal because her business can no longer afford to exist in the area in question.
“We are no longer successfully sustaining,” Ansel said. “It’s not that we want to leave. The business is not being supported enough by the community.”
Ansel said Opus is the only entity to approach her and her business with a proposal to redevelop the entire area, which is “a multi-million dollar effort.”
Richard Campbell, an Oxford resident and journalism professor at Miami University, spoke in support of Whistle Stop and brought attention to the limited housing prospects Miami faculty have in town.
“Our faculty was driven out of mile square because of free markets,” Campbell said.
Charles Kennick, a senior at Miami, wanted to bring a student perspective to the discussion.
“There have been studies done in classes such as Dr. [David] Prytherch’s that there is enough student housing in the area and an increase in housing will not drop the prices in any way,” Kennick said. “And just because Miami students tend to be wealthier, it does not mean they should be exploited for someone else’s gain.”
In council discussion, various councilors expressed concern over the proposal and said they expect to have more conversations on the issue.
“We should be guided by general welfare, not benefit to the property owner,” councilor David Prytherch said.
The next city council meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 8.