HED: Oxford residents seek to block development
LEDE IN: Questions over covenants, tree cutting raised in lawsuits.
By Jane Hill
OXFORD – Residents of Oxford’s Old Woodland Hills area have filled suit against a local developer for seeking to build homes on property he owns near theirs.
Oxford developer William Westbrook proposes building houses on 11 acres he owns off Longest Drive and began seeking Oxford Planning Commission preliminary approval in February for a plat for the Summerset subdivision. He finally won approval April 10 after the Oxford Planning Commission and the Oxford Board of Aldermen kicked the issue back and forth through five meetings.
Those who oppose Summerset subdivision claim environmental and property value damage would result if construction goes forward. The lawsuit they have filed in Lafayette County Chancery Court against Westbrook and his partner, Roy Young of Collierville, Tenn., seeks an injunction to stop construction.
Project opponents say the smaller lots and houses conflict with the restrictive covenants observed by their neighborhood.
The proposed subdivision would include 24 lots, averaging 17,500 square feet. The house plans Westbrook has proposed average 1,500 square feet at an average cost of $150,000.
In a second legal maneuver, Old Woodland Hills residents also have appealed a decision by the Oxford Board of Aldermen to approve the Summerset plat in Lafayette County Circuit Court.
Andy Howorth, an Oxford attorney representing the Old Woodland Hills residents, said the development violates restrictive covenants governing his clients’ property. The Old Woodland Hills residents do not belong to an incorporated homeowners association, and only some of the residents are financing the legal battle.
Howorth said even though not everyone living in the subdivision is contributing funds to the legal action, they are all being represented by the complaints filed April 19, which is why the plaintiffs are not specifically named in the complaint.
The developers, who are being represented by Oxford attorney Ed Roberts, have not filed a reply to the lawsuit, but they still have about two weeks to do so.
In debate at planning commission and aldermen meetings, it has been noted that no restrictive covenants are mentioned on Westbrook’s deed to the property. However, Howorth claims there is legal precedent in Mississippi court decisions that the restrictive covenants on one piece of property have been found to be binding on neighboring pieces of property.
When contacted Thursday, Roberts declined to comment on the case.
Oxford Mayor John Leslie said he is glad that the question in now in the courts.
“I pushed rather hard to get a decision on the (Summerset) subdivision,” Leslie said. “I felt like the decision had been delayed long enough, and we didn’t have any substantial grounds to turn it down.”
Leslie said the main objection the Old Woodland Hills residents seemed to have to the development was that Westbrook was cutting down trees on the property.
“I think they were so used to having trees in that area that they became very upset when he started to cut them down” Leslie said. “But a fellow has a right to do that on his own property.”
Leslie noted that Westbrook offered to sell a 100-foot-wide buffer zone to the landowners between his development and the Old Woodland Hills area, and the offer was refused.
The spokesman for the homeowners, Tom Howorth, could not be reached for comment Thursday.