Wednesday, February 1, 2023

City cracking down on tall buildings in Square

The view from Boure on Courthouse Square, in Oxford.

One of the newest measures from the city is an increased height ordinance for the central Square that passed through its first reading by the Board of Aldermen on Feb. 18. That amendment would increase the height limits for buildings that sit directly in the downtown Square to 38 feet, subject to fire marshal approval.
On average, the city has approved one height variance request per year, for the past 15 years, according to Tim Akers, the city planner. That’s a large number of requests, Akers said. Several of those requests have been for 10 feet above the previous limit of 35 feet, according to the ordinance.
The increase in height will make the limits uniform with the streets surrounding the square, and helps the city find a middle ground that would allow officials to stand firm and insist on fewer variances. The dates and addresses for past variances are available online.
“Maybe we can hold their feet to the fire … and they’ll stick to it,” Akers said. Other height overlay districts have much higher limits, such as Jackson Avenue, where a number of taller hotels are located.
Oxford’s rapid growth in the past decade is an impetus that could endanger its historical properties, if city departments don’t work together to create a holistic plan to preserve the downtown. The town is a prime candidate for overdevelopment and cookie-cutter housing that encroaches upon the historic Square.
The city hopes to give residents incentives to keep larger trees.
The city hopes to give residents incentives to keep larger trees.

The drive to protect Oxford’s Square and historical homes from unconstrained construction is a major task that requires significant time commitments from two historic preservation commissions, the Planning Commission and Board of Aldermen, just to name a few.
The height changes go in tandem with a proposed amendment to the landscape ordinance. That change has been through its first reading. The city wants to give downtown owners incentives to retain the town’s old-growth trees, and a new landscape ordinance amendment would give special status to trees 18 inches or larger, of certain species.
“The more large trees you save, the fewer you have to replace if you chop down trees,” Akers said.
The next Board of Aldermen meeting is at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Gretchen Stone is associate editor. You can contact Gretchen about this story at