Saturday, January 28, 2023

Aldermen Reverse Shaw House Property Demolition

Shaw House at 1701 E. Jackson Ave.
Shaw House at 1701 E. Jackson Ave.

The Oxford Board of Aldermen voted unanimously tonight to repeal the Historic Preservation Commission’s decision allowing developers to demolish four structures on the Shaw House property.
The case will return to the commission, who must now consider six required elements that Shaw House neighbors say weren’t individually discussed when the commission approved demolition. In granting the appeal, the Board of Aldermen insisted that the commission consider all six findings in all future cases.
Attorney Joyce Freeland argued that the commission failed to consider the section from the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance, especially the effect on neighboring property values. Freeland, along with attorney Tom Freeland, is representing Shaw House neighbors William and Polina Wheeler.
Alderman John Morgan was clear in his opinion, after a presentation of the record and arguments ended.
“There are plenty of reasons to send this back and grant this appeal,” Morgan said. “The big question is if we think it’s legal and we can even hear the appeal.”
He also noted that the board appoints the commission.
Alderman Jay Hughes ended the discussion with a four-part motion stating that the appeal is part of the due process rights, the Wheelers have a right to appeal, state appellate law allows the appeal and that the Historic Preservation Commission didn’t comply with the ordinance.
In other words, the board could hear the appeal and the six specific findings must be made clear in the record.
“We must do what is best for the city of Oxford,” Hughes said.
The overturned commission decision would have allowed developers to tear down a caretaker’s cottage, a modern duplex and a modern single-family home, and a concrete pad. The demolition work has been tabled several times, once before Historic Preservation and also before the Planning Commission.
A side view of Shaw House.
A side view of Shaw House.

The Shaw House, built in 1848, is unique because it’s one of the few antebellum homes left in town, and when built was used as a working farm.
Minutes from the last Historic Preservation Commission meeting haven’t been approved, so city planner Tim Akers and Katrina Hourin were tasked with creating a record from online documents. Information about the commission’s consideration of the six required findings wasn’t listed in the created record.
The appeal was complicated, and attorneys on both sides argued about whether the board could hear the appeal and if appeals are allowed in such administrative decisions.
The board proceeded with great caution, asking city attorney Pope Mallette for his advice about the board’s ability to sit as an appeal body.
Because the city ordinance is silent on such appeals, and the state wording created two different interpretations in the minds of attorneys for each side, the board first heard the record and arguments before deciding whether to act.
Mayor Pat Patterson recused himself because his own home is on adjoining property.
– Gretchen Stone, associate editor, HottyToddy.com, gretchen.stone@hottytoddy.com

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