Oxford preservation proposals

HED: Demolition ban imposed on Old Oxford’ areas

READ-IN: A historic preservation district with its own commission is proposed for the Courthouse Square and surrounding areas.

By Errol Castens

Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – Several of Oxford’s oldest areas are under a demolition moratorium while the city’s Historic Preservation Commission considers creating historic districts to cover them.

The commission voted this week to nominate three areas for historic preservation – more of the area surrounding North Lamar Boulevard, the South Lamar area and the Central Business District.

Actual creation of the districts requires review and approval by the State Department of Archives and History and the city’s Board of Aldermen.

Fast growth and aggressive development have alarmed residents and officials who see multistory condominiums and commercial structures replacing single-family dwellings and historic structures.

“Actually, people in town and out-of-towners as well have been saying, Y’all are going to ruin Oxford if y’all don’t get some regulations,” said preservation commission member Molissia Swaney.

The planned destruction of two buildings in particular – the former residence east of the Isom House on Jefferson Avenue and the Oxford Church of Christ facility on North Lamar – have been particularly upsetting.

“We want growth, but it just needs to be the right way so that we keep our charm,” Swaney said. “Once you bulldoze an 1890 house, you don’t get back an 1890 house.”

Property owners on and near the Courthouse Square have long opposed being put under a historic preservation district, claiming such a move could impose restrictions harmful to businesses.

A proposal to put the district under a commission largely consisting of downtown property owners has received a slightly warmer reception.

“We’re fairly happy with the way things are, but if there is going to be a historic district, we want to control the makeup of it,” said Mike Bridge, a downtown property owner and professional urban planner. “We really don’t need a non-equity partner telling us what to do.”

Bridge insists the Square is as successful as it is because of the property owners’ past decisions and investments.

“We have no problem with the creation of a separate historic commission that would be comprised of the property owners of the downtown area,” he said.

The Oxford-Lafayette Preservation Alliance was supportive of the idea to put downtown under its own historic preservation commission. This newly formed group brings together the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation, the Skipwith Historic and Genealogical Society, the organizations that oversee the Cedar Oaks mansion and neighborhood associations under one umbrella.

Oxford-Lafayette Preservation Alliance will hold its first public meeting in Courtroom 1 of the Chancery Court Building at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Contact Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.