As Halloween signifies the beginning of the end of another year in Oxford, it is time to reflect on how things used to be and how they are now. In the past, growth was more gradual, and change seemed less extreme. People didn’t concern themselves with locking doors or where their children were. But social divisions were also starker.
These days, rapid growth has brought investment in both private and public spaces. This growth has promoted greater social interaction but also more insecurity. This was brought home this month by yet another war in the Middle East. But here at home there were also concerns about security.
On October 2, the Board of Aldermen were asked to consider the installation of a guard shack at the intersection of Clubhouse and OUS Drive. Residents of Grand Oaks and a developer NJ Correnti appealed a 6-0 decision by the Planning Commission rejecting the guard shack.
Correnti argued passionately about the safety of his and other families’ children posed by speeding vehicles and suspicious individuals entering the neighborhood. He claimed to observe individuals in a vehicle videotaping his home and warned of the danger of child trafficking, burglary, and other crime posed by non-residents.
Planning Director Ben Requet supported the Planning Commission’s denial, arguing the city’s goal of interconnectivity would be harmed by the installation of a guard shack and possible gate. City attorney Pope Mallette cited Attorney General opinions that did not support cities relinquishing their publicly owned roadway property to private entities.
A lively discussion by the Board of Aldermen followed the public hearing. While there was a heated debate, ultimately the aldermen voted 4-3 to support the 6-0 planning commission decision. It was striking that the vote was so close given the unanimous vote by the Planning Commission and staff.
This follows on the heels of other recent action by the Board of Aldermen overturning their committees. Perhaps the Board of Aldermen is naturally more subject to pressure from concerned citizens than the various committees, but administrative consistency is the cost of this disagreement.
Another example of this institutional disconnect occurred at the Board of Aldermen’s October 17 meeting. A developer applicant presented a well-reasoned and neighborhood supported appeal of the Historic Planning Commission’s denial of his application to renovate a home in the historic district at 433 North 15th Street.
The main issues in dispute were the height of the proposed roof line and a covered porch addition. The applicant amended his plans in an attempt to comply with the commission’s guidelines, but the historic preservation committee voted 4-3 to deny the application. The commission’s majority felt the proposed changes would render the renovated structure almost unrecognizable from the original home built in 1925.
In response, the applicant appealed to the Board of Aldermen and pointed out several other houses on the same street had covered porches, demolished homes in the neighborhood had been granted higher roof lines, many neighbors supported his project, and the house had been a rental house since 1973 and was in great disrepair. Persuaded by the applicant’s efforts to comply with historic preservation guidelines, the aldermen granted his appeal 7-0.
In order to function best, those who govern must be in tune with those who carry out their policies and those they mean to govern. While the buck stops with the Board of Aldermen, the city could not possibly serve a population twice as large as it was 20 years ago without the efforts of many others.
While disagreements are inevitable and checks and balances do settle conflicts, the public interest is best served with more consistency on issues affecting everything from security to historic preservation.
Looking forward, the annual Christmas Parade will take place Monday, December 4 from 6:30-8:30 pm. Christmas on The Square will be on Friday, November 24 from 10 am to 6 pm.
So until then, dear reader, enjoy the holidays and the new season they bring!