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Friday, August 29, 2014

Shopping center for Highway 7 approved

Developers planning to build a new shopping center on Highway 7 South near the Windsor Falls subdivision jumped their first hurdle Monday when they received approval from the Oxford Planning Commission to rezone about 25 acres from residential to general businesses.
The 6-1 approval came after a lengthy discussion between the commission and Jeff Williams, engineer for the proposed shopping center, of Williams Engineering.
In order to gain rezoning, developers must show either a mistake was made in the original zoning map or that the needs have changed in the area. Williams said with the new Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi being built and the plans to widen Highway 7, the area has and will continue to undergo significant changes.
He said the area currently has few shopping options.
‘Serve existing communities’
“What I’ve been hearing from this commission for a while now is that we need to serve existing communities so they don’t have to drive miles into town every day for basic needs,” he said.
The plans for the shopping center are only preliminary and developers have not yet contracted with any businesses. Wil Matthews, real estate agent for the project, said the owners plan on targeting banks, convenience and grocery stores, and other neighborhood-friendly businesses.
A few residents from the Windsor Falls community came to the meeting to express opposition to the project; however, a letter from the board of the homeowners association said if the zoning was granted, the subdivision would hope that the businesses would be “high-end retail” with strict architectural design requirements.
The proposed center would have one entrance from Highway 7 and one from County Road 322. The plans show the highway being widened to four-lanes, but Assistant City Engineer Reanna Mayoral said that construction on widening Highway 7 to four lanes was not set to begin until 2020, which was confirmed this morning by Mississippi Department of Transportation District 2 Director Mitch Turner.
“Currently, we have construction in 2020,” Turner said this morning. “But there’s a lot of things that can influence that; one being money and the other the speed in which we can acquire land for the right-of-way. It could become a hot political topic and be moved up.”
Planning Commissioner Mark Huelse said he felt the rezoning was premature and voted to deny the request.
Commissioner John Bradley asked to include a condition of approval that each outparcel on the property would have its designs approved by the Planning Commission. Other conditions included in the rezoning include having only curb cut from Highway 7; the following uses are prohibited: car lot, warehouses, truck terminals, vehicle repair and animal hospitals; all building facades and sign materials shall be complementary and certain materials are discouraged, including metal siding or roofing, painted concrete block and artificial stone; and only one sign will be permitted along the highway that will be no greater than 20 feet in height.
New heights
The commission voted to recommend the Board of Aldermen approve a new height limit for structures in the downtown area, changing it from 35 feet to 38 feet.
City Planner Tim Akers said the city has granted 10 height variances since 1999.
“When we start seeing a lot of requests for variances we have to look at our ordinances and review if they need to be changed,” he said. “We are recommending to raise it to 38 feet.”
However, all of the variances granted were for 4 or more feet and even if the restricted height was 38 feet at the time, many of the developments would have still needed a variance.
Hotel developer Luke Chamblee said he was against raising the height restriction.
“Why now when there’s so little property left in the downtown area?” he asked the commission. “The commission has been able to control the height of the structures by making developers come and ask for the variance.”
Chamblee, the developer of Hotel Oxford, the former Downtown Inn, received a 7-foot variance for this new hotel in December.
The Board of Aldermen will vote on the ordinance change after three readings including a public hearing.
In other business Monday, the commission:
— Granted a special exception permit to a home occupation for property at 139 Rosemont Loop.
— Approved the preliminary plan and site plan for Oxford Commons Office Park located on Hopkins Drive in the Oxford Commons planned unit development. Commissioner Watt Bishop abstained from voting.
— Granted a 14-foot front yard variance for 713 Ridgewood Manor.
— Denied a request to rezone 1 acre of property from agricultural to two-unit residential for property located north of Anderson Road.
— Approved a rezoning request for 5.1 acres from professional business and two-unit residential to neighborhood business from property located west of South Lamar Boulevard, north of Harlan Drive and south of Mimosa Drive.
— The requests for a 4-foot height variance for The Chancellor’s House hotel and the site plan approval for the hotel were removed from the agenda before the meeting.
— The requests for special exception to permit condominiums and the site-plan approval for the Shaw house property on East Jackson Avenue was removed from the agenda and rescheduled for March’s planning commission meeting. (February 11, 2014, Page 1)

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