Commission endorses more height in Oxford

Oxford StockBy Errol Castens

Daily Journal

OXFORD – Developers in downtown Oxford may have an easier time fitting their plans into the city’s regulations after Planning Commission members voted to recommend an increase in allowable building heights near the Square.

“Frequently, once you see a lot of variance requests, it’s time to look at (the limit),” said City Planner Tim Akers. “We’re asking an increase from 35 to 38 feet.”

Akers said height variances have been granted for at least 10 new buildings in downtown since 1999.

Developers of the Chancellor’s House, a boutique hotel proposed for the corner of South Lamar Boulevard and University Avenue, had been on Monday’s Planning Commission agenda to ask for four extra feet, pleading that the steep slope requires extra height to accommodate two guest floors. A representative asked that their request be tabled before the meeting began.

Luke Chamblee is developing a competing hotel at North Lamar Boulevard and Jefferson Avenue that was granted a 7-foot, 7-inch variance. He argued that height variances give Oxford bargaining room to ask for costlier design elements.

“The first I thought was, ‘Why? Why would the city want to give up its leverage?’” Chamblee said. “Seventy to 75 percent of the property owners abided by that, and the others have given up some concessions to get their variances.”

City Attorney Paul Watson said a pattern of variances is a major criteria for considering revisions of ordinances.

Building Official Randy Barber said the common perception is false that allowable building height in downtown Oxford is in relation to the Lafayette County Courthouse.

“Each one is dependent on your elevation,” he said. “If it’s on a hill, you have to measure from all four sides.”

Commission member Watt Bishop said that higher buildings would create more compact footprints and help slow or reverse what he termed Oxford’s urban sprawl.

“It also coincides with current building practices – like how many feet are required between floors for ducts and things like that,” he said. “I’m glad to see this instead of all these arbitrary numbers.”

The ordinance change also will require approval by the Board of Aldermen.

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