Shaw House gets mixed votes

town_oxford_greenBy Errol Castens

Daily Journal

OXFORD – The prospective developer of a condo project involving a historic house near downtown Oxford got one negative response from city officials this week and one that was at least partly positive.

Sid Brian of Brian Developers was turned down Monday by the Oxford Planning Commission for a special exception on his proposal to save the Shaw House, a two-story, 6,500-square-foot Greek Revival/Italianate home on Jackson Avenue East and believed to be built around 1860, adding from 14 to 18 free-standing and attached condo units on the five-plus acres.

“This has been a fairly long, ongoing process for my client,” project engineer Paul Koshenina told the Planning Commission.

Under present two-family residential zoning, he said, the project would have a density of 2.89 units per acre, compared to four units per acre among nearby single-family homes.

“Anything less than 14 units jeopardizes the restoration of the Shaw Home,” Koshenina said.

Opponents to the project contended construction on the steep site would cause problems on what Koshenina acknowledged are “some of the world’s most erosive soils” and would drastically change the neighborhood’s character. Former Mayor Richard Howorth noted that the Shaw property is some of the last near downtown Oxford that fits the characterizations of William Faulkner’s writings.

“This is one of Oxford’s few remaining areas that has ‘character’ and is ‘quaint,’” Howorth said, noting those favorite words of developers. He also told commissioners the contest pits “an outside developer … versus those of us who live here, work here and raise our children here – like you.”

Commissioners voted 5-2 to deny the request for special exception.

On Tuesday, the Historic Preservation Commission, after lengthy debate, agreed to recommend demolition of four of five other structures on the property, including a cabin, a single-family residence, a duplex and a concrete slab. The motion stipulated that the 1920s-era barn may not be demolished or moved.

Brian asked before the vote that the barn be included for demolition, given that its restoration would take time and resources away from the undeniably historic home.

“I’d like to request that your focus is on the big house,” he told historic preservation commission members. “That’s a major undertaking. Let’s do everything we can to save the house.”

errol.castens@journalinc.com