An attempt to bring a new student housing development within the mile square was stymied this week by Oxford’s city planning commission.
After the real estate development company Opus Development Company and the Oxford community spoke at length during a meeting on Tuesday, August 14, the planning commission voted on the proposal.
The commission split the vote — there were three votes for the proposal and three votes against, and the tie resulted in a rejection by default. The commission will report a negative recommendation to city council.
While the meeting featured other concerns, like the creation of a new mixed-use building in town that would feature a hotel, the vast majority of the focus was on a proposed rezoning of the Whistle Stop property that extends from West Spring Street to West Walnut Street.
The potential rezoning would turn what is currently property licensed for general business use into property that would be solely for residential use. If successful, the rezoning would allow for the construction of additional housing facilities that would likely end up as primarily student housing.
The applicant for the rezoning is the Opus Development Company, a real-estate development organization based in Minneapolis. Opus Development intends to create a high-end housing facility that could potentially hold over 300 residents.
“We feel strongly that doing something to revitalize and improve this truly underutilized land would probably be the best thing for the community,” said John Myefski, principal and president of Myefski Architects, a firm working with Opus on this proposal.
Even if Opus decides not to build on the land, rezoning ensures that any other developer could decide to do so in the future and that the property would no longer be usable for general business development.
Several community members expressed concern that the rezoning and subsequent development would irrevocably change the nature of the neighborhood.
“Is this what we want our city to look like?” said one female citizen. “There are plenty of us in town who like to be able to walk Uptown, to have our kids walk Uptown. We ride our bikes to work. We like to live as urban as possible.”
Other concerns raised were increased traffic and the potential safety hazards due to the development’s proximity to the railroad tracks and that many existing student housing facilities have a number of vacant units already.
Conversely, some community members supported the proposal, claiming that the development would be good for the neighborhood and that it would create a stronger and more vibrant atmosphere in an area that desperately needs to be beautified.
After the planning commission delivers their negative recommendation, city council will decide whether or not to officially reject the proposal.