Planners question need for more student housing

The Oxford Eagle Lucy Schultze
August 10, 2004

Questions over market need and the future of east Oxford have stalled plans for the town's latest student apartment complex.

The Oxford Planning Commission on Monday narrowly denied a special exception which would have allowed Campus Pointe, a 300-unit complex, to be built in an area currently zoned for shopping center use.

"I'd like to have a better understanding of the demand," Commission Chairman Jon Fisher said, doubting the developers' research that more student apartment housing is needed.

"We believe we have quite a few apartments in town."

Developers may return to seek a rezoning for the 22-acre site, envisioned as a "buffer" between a proposed shopping center and some 500 acres of future residential neighborhoods. The development is slated for Avent family property along Highway 7 between Sisk Avenue and Highway 30.

Kenlan Development of Memphis, Tenn., is developing the property for the local family, and brought in apartment developers Bostic Construction of Greensboro, N.C., to invest $22 million in this portion of the project.

The student-oriented development would house up to 720 residents, with a pool, fitness center, special programming and other amenities.

Commissioners praised the project's quality, but said they were concerned about whether it could be sustained along with all the other apartment complexes in town.

"You do have a very fine product, but I wish you'd have come here three years ago before we got on Hathorn Road," Commissioner Cathy Marshall Smith said, referring to two major new complexes which together house more than 1,000 students.

The developers saw this concern as free-market meddling.

"It seems odd to deny a project because you believe it's a better project," said Kenneth Farrell, a partner in Kenlan Development. "You don't want to do anything better because it might damage what's there?"

Commissioners Charlie Noble and Janis Holley agreed.

"If this is a superior project, it may put some others out of business in other areas, and that's OK," Noble said, adding that developers have never been required to present market studies.

"Your $22 million is at risk and if you do it without doing the proper research, that's your folly and not our problem."

Noble and Holley voted with Debby Chessin against denying the request. Those voting to deny it also cited traffic concerns and a need to understand how the rest of the property would develop.

Commissioner Hugh Goforth left early from Monday's meeting.

Other actions

In other business Monday, the Oxford Planning Commission:

Granted a special exception to allow a condominium project in the Central Business District, as long as it included some commercial space.

This building planned for a current warehouse site across from The Van Buren on the corner of North 14th Street and Harrison Avenue lost its bid for a height variance from 35 to 48 feet.

Commissioners were locked in a trio of tie votes, splitting in the end over whether to grant 44 or 45 feet. No compromise was reached.

Denied a variance request that would have allowed the Burger King on West Jackson Avenue to update the logo on its sign without replacing the whole structure. The sign, erected before the city's sign ordinance was in place, is too big and too tall.

Commissioners made the opposite decision in March when they ruled in an identical case that Taco Bell could update its logo while keeping its oversized post. They said at the time that logo changes didn't void the grandfathering clause since they changed neither the shape, size or message of the sign the same argument Burger King owners made.

Denied, effectively, a rezoning request that would have allowed a 36-unit condominium development on property now zoned professional office use on the corner of Jefferson Davis Drive and Access Road. No commissioner moved to approve it.

Approved 4-2 a site plan for The Hamlet , the first 30 units in a multi-phase project off Mimosa Drive. Commissioners Cathy Marshall-Smith and Paula Shanks dissented.

Staff Writer Steven Griffin contributed to this report.

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