Meaghan McAvoy

The construction of additional student housing in the uptown Oxford district may soon commence, as long as certain conditions are satisfied regarding trash.

An ordinance concerning the construction of a mixed-use building, located at the currently empty lot at 18 S. Poplar St., underwent its first reading by the Oxford City Council Tuesday evening.

Community Development Director Jung-Han Chen said that a mixed-use building is one where the first floor will function for commercial means, with the second and remaining upper floors used for residential purposes. There will also be two units of residential space located in the basement of the building.

The proposal was previously viewed by Planning Commission Nov. 11, who recommended approval to council to grant the Conditional Use permit to the applicant, Uptown Real Estate LLC., as long as four conditions were met.

Chen said these conditions included obtaining a variance from the Boarding Zone of Appeals that waived the loading space requirement for non-residential use, called for a trash collection plan, said the Historic and Architectural Preservation Committee has to approve the plans and asked for a detailed landscaping plan.

City council’s main concern, which coincided with the Planning Commission’s recommendations, was trash collection. This includes not only the collection of refuse from commercial space and residential quarters, but also trash that may accumulate in the basement’s window wells, which are specifically designed for egress, or escape means.

City councilor Richard Keebler said that many Oxford police officers he has spoken with have found trash collection and trash facilities inadequate in the uptown district. As a solution, Keebler suggested that a clear trash collection plan be amended into the ordinance as part of the building design, which council approved in a 7-0 vote.

Although council was apprehensive about general trash collection, councilor Alysia Fischer said her main concern was with the operation of these window wells.

“(I’m concerned with) making sure (the well) gets cleaned out and the question of egress if trash has collected in there,” she said.

Because the land is located between a multi-family residential building and a restaurant and bar, council also had concerns that the window wells, that need to remain clear for safety purposes, will accumulate litter.

Councilor Kate Currie said there is good chance the wells will become “magnets for beer cups.”

Architect Ken Bowerman said that Uptown Real Estate knows of the issue.

“We recognize in the location we’re at, that the (window) wells may be a beer can, trash collecting issue, and if our tenants aren’t keeping it up, we recognize it may put a burden on our maintenance staff,” he said.

Mayor Prue Dana and Currie suggested the possibility of placing gates over the wells, although there would need to be limitation so that inhabitants could still get out if needed.

However, councilor Greig Rutherford advised against a gate in the case of winter weather conditions, such as snow and ice, which could potentially entrap someone inside the building if the gate was, for example, frozen solid.

Bowerman referred to gating as a “Catch 22.”

“The concern with the gate is that it could block light (and) block egress,” he said.

Since the 3,653 ft. lot is located directly across from the Oxford Municipal Building and St. Mary’s Parish Center, Bowerman said he also understood the importance of designing the building to fit in with the rest of the historic uptown district.

Keeping with the traditions of historic Oxford, Chen said that the building will be limited to only three floors, not including the residential space in the basement.

Chen said that the applicant has also proposed for the building to cover the entire lot, excluding the vacated right-of-way.

Keebler said that although he was still uneasy about some parts of the plan, including whether the building really should be considered “appropriate use.” Regardless, he said the plans met Oxford’s current zoning codes.

In the future, Keebler suggested that Planning Commission revisit the zoning codes and see if this is the best thing for properties in uptown Oxford and make any appropriate changes.

“But at this point in time, based on our zoning codes and meeting the conditions, I think we need to approve it,” he said.

More information on this project can be found at cityofoxford.org or for information on the applicant, visit murents.com.

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