OXFORD, Ga. – Three members of the Oxford City Council and Mayor Jerry Roseberry determined greenspace trumps parking spaces at the council’s Monday night meeting when they voted 4-3, with Roseberry casting the tie-breaking vote, to deny an Oxford College of Emory University plan to turn a city owned grassy area on the east side of Whatcoat Street into a parking lot.
The proposal, presented by Kendra Mayfield, Associate Director of Programs at the college during the council’s 6 p.m. work session, called for the construction of 30 parking spaces along the southeast side of the street. The council earlier in the summer approved the rezoning of two parcels of college-owned land on the west side of Whatcoat Street and on George Street for the construction of a parking lot with 34 spaces.
At the time of that vote, then City Manager Bob Schwartz said the new parking could be used in part to replace parking spaces adjacent to Allen Memorial Methodist Church that will be lost when the college begins to make changes to Pierce Street.
Mayfield made a similar proposal to the council at its last work session. That proposal called for a parking area that impacted the right of way on the street. The new plan, she said, would not impact the right of way.
“There was not support of that design and Councilman (David) Eady suggested a different design that would push it back a bit more and create a mirrored presentation of that parking lot and we are fine to proceed with that.”
Mayfield said the college would be willing to be responsible for maintaining the parking lot and making the changes to the street.
Council Member Jim Windham voiced opposition to the plan.
“I personally can’t see this being a favorable thing for the city of Oxford,” he said,” We’ve already given the college Hamill Street. For all practical purposes, we’re unlikely to get that back anytime soon. We’ve given the college carte blanche on Pierce Street to eliminate parking spaces and do what they see fit on that.
“We swapped land with the college on the dining hall. We have given to approve variances on almost every building they’ve put up in recent years and I, for one, don’t want people to think of Oxford as the parking lot for the pretty college behind it.”
Windham suggested there were better ways for the college to address its parking issues and that the city should move on with its own plans for Whatcoat Street.
Eady said both Whatcoat Street parking lots would be used replace parking lost when the college makes changes to Pierce Street.
“I would point out that the parking on Whatcoat street, both the lot on the west side that’s solely on college property and the proposal for parking on the Whatcoat Street right of way, is in part to replace the displaced on street parking on Whatcoat and Pierce Street,” he said, “That is the 20 spaces and 14 spaces that are being removed from Whatcoat and Pierce Street.
Roseberry suggested the college should look at expanding parking on the property they already own.
“One thing that comes to my mind is, we know that Whatcoat Street is used by a lot of people on that side of town going to the post office,” he said, “They don’t want to go out on Emory Street. They want to go out Whatcoat.
“If we could move that parking over to the left side, on property you already own, we could reduce the traffic on Whatcoat Street.”
Several members of the church voiced their support for the plan. Mayfield said the college has received feedback from the church.
“A lot of this is due to feedback that we’ve had from the church. They’re in a really tough situation with parking from us. We need to try to provide them some very appropriate parking adjacent,” she said.
“I think that the east parking lot is somewhat elegant in its simplicity and I think the streetscape will be lovely.”
Prior to the vote, Roseberry suggested that expanding parking on the west side of the street would eliminate the need for church members to have to cross the street and be closer to the church. He also said the plan would eliminate the park-like atmosphere of the area.
Member Sarah Davis echoed Roseberry’s concerns about church members crossing the street.
“I would like to see it on the other side of the street as well,” she said. “I don’t know what the church members think about that, but I think that the older people are going to have an harder time getting across the street to the sidewalk then they would if they were on the other side of the street.”
Members Windham, Davis and Dr. Melvin Baker voted to deny the proposal while Eady, George Holt and Mike Ready voted in favor before Roseberry broke the tie.