Oxford board reverses historic demolition

town_oxford_greenBy Errol Castens

Daily Journal

OXFORD – Four structures on a five-acre historic property just east of downtown Oxford are safe from demolition, at least for a while.

Aldermen voted 7-0 on Tuesday to reverse the Historic Preservation Commission’s 5-2 decision from last week to allow the destruction of a cabin and other outbuildings sharing the property with the Shaw House, a deteriorating 6,000-square-foot home built before the Civil War. Louisiana-based Brian Development had proposed buying the property, restoring the house and building from 12 to 18 townhouses and free-standing condominiums on the remainder of the property.

The Wheeler family, whose home adjoins the Shaw property, appealed the preservation commission’s decision to the Board of Aldermen. Brian’s attorney, George Haymans, argued that Oxford’s ordinance did not give them standing to appeal. City attorney Pope Mallette advised that the board had wide leeway on hearing the appeal based on state law, while attorneys Tom and Joyce Freeland, who represented the Wheelers, argued that the 14th Amendment guarantee to due process would trump any inconsistencies or lacks in lower laws. Moreover, over they said, the Commission’s decision did not address the six consideration required in such preservation issues.

Haymans said if the developer could not raze the outbuildings, plans for development would stall.

“Ultimately, the property is tied up, and the (Shaw House) will not be restored,” he said.

Alderman Jay Hughes, an attorney himself, ended the protracted technical argument by noting that any commissioner who owns or rents property within 300 feet of a contested property is disqualified from hearing the issue. With that understanding, he said, “Those actually owning adjoining property must have a legitimate interest in a matter pending before the Commission.”

Hughes moved to reverse the Commission’s ruling and prohibit the demolition of the four Shaw property structures. His motion to overturn recognized the ordinance’s intent to provide appeal rights to any adjoining property owners or organizations, including the Wheelers, aggrieved by Commission decisions.

errol.castens@journalinc.com