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Posted: October 23, 2011 12:30 a.m.

Oxford plans for a future downtown

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Finding a tenant for Oxford's community building is a key step toward engendering a downtown district in a city that lacks a commercial or civic center, according to city officials.

A plan developed around 2006 and implemented in August through changes to the zoning code envisions a walking-friendly mixed-use residential and commercial district on Emory Street with a refurbished community building anchoring the southern end, City Hall on the northern end and the Post Office in the middle.

"It enables us to focus on the plusses we already have, trails, quiet streets," said Councilman Jim Windham. "Our city is already very walkable."

The city council in August passed a revamped zoning code that, among other things, set a Town Center district on Emory Street from Pierce to Clark streets that allows for mixed-use commercial and residential buildings with storefronts at street level and up to three total stories.

Council members said the design would encourage smaller mom-and-pop shops and restaurants that cater to both city residents and students and employees at Oxford College.

"We hope what develops involves the students and the citizens both," Councilman Hoyt Oliver said.

The Town Center district calls for single-story retail or restaurant buildings and for mixed-use business and residential in buildings no higher than 40 feet, according to the zoning ordinance.

It also encourages higher density within that zone by restricting lot width to a maximum of 40 feet, with exceptions for mixed-use and civic buildings.

City officials said they hoped smaller shops, delis, restaurants, coffee shops and bookstores would fill in the business district. With the exception of the community building, which previously housed the fire and police departments, those buildings and shops would be private investments.

"The town center will have to be public-private," Windham said. "The city is not going to build and rent out."

Officials said they did not have a timeline for a downtown to appear, and much depends on the state of the economy.

"We do the rezoning, and, hopefully, when the economy gets better it'll attract some businesses," Mayor Jerry Roseberry said

Meanwhile, with the zoning code enacted, the next step is to repair the roof of the community building at George Street and attract tenants. The interior of the building, which is partitioned into three spaces, would not be renovated until a tenant came forward.

The city government currently is reviewing several proposals for repairing the building's roof.

The roof repair and renovation will be paid for with special purpose sales tax (SPLOST) funds approved by voters in 2005.

Possibilities for the building include a coffee shop or an Oxford College bookstore, though any discussion about occupying that building is preliminary, city officials said.

Conceptual designs of the area around George and Pierce streets show a village green or common area there, which would eliminate part of Whatcoat Street and possibly mean the demolition of the community building. But council members said radically changing that block likely is not a possibility in the near future.

"We don't see it being torn down anytime soon," Oliver said. "It's intended to be the southern anchor in the planned downtown development."

Outside the Town Center district, the code created a low-density commercial zone with single freestanding buildings, and a series of residential zones that expanded minimum lot sizes as it moved towards the rural and agricultural edges of the city.

 

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