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Board of Aldermen Grants Appeal to Expand House Described as "Piece of Junk"

A local house described by one member of the Oxford Board of Aldermen as a “piece of junk” was the subject of a lively debate in Tuesday’s meeting.

The board ultimately granted an appeal of a decision by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) involving the home of Theron and Donna McLarty on North 14th Street.
In a Sept. 18 meeting of the HPC, the McLartys requested a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) to expand the house, a request which was denied by the HPC. Plans were submitted by the designer, and due to committee members’ concerns about the size of the expansion, the HPC asked the McLartys to come back with design modifications.
At the HPC’s Oct. 16 meeting, the discussion continued, largely about the scale of the expansion of other homes in the neighborhood. A motion was made to approve the COA, but in the end, committee members voted 4-3 (with one abstention) to deny the expansion.
In Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting, Bill Turner, an attorney for the McLartys, said the couple, now in their 70s, wants to expand the one-bedroom house to be more suitable for a retirement home.
“They have four grown children and 10 grandchildren,” Taylor said. “Right now, the house is approximately 662 square feet. What they’re looking to do is expand that, but in keeping with the neighborhood, and make it look like today’s standards. The renovated house would be approximately 2,360 square feet.”
After Turner presented visuals of the proposed expansion as well as the house in its current state, Alderman John Morgan joked, “They don’t want to retire to that?” To which Turner responded, “They would really have to squeeze in.”
City Planner Judy Daniel then offered more background on the matter, adding that the HPC was largely concerned with the scale of the expansion.
“There was just a feeling that they were expanding it more than the commission felt comfortable with approving,” Daniel said.
Sarah Frances Hardy, chair of the HPC, agreed with Daniel and also spoke on the HPC’s behalf.
“What is happening in the historic districts in Oxford is that we have almost reached a tipping point where we are losing a lot of the smaller homes, and so we’re really trying to be very considerate about what we’re doing,” Hardy said. “This home, in particular … a lot of the houses around it were renovated before we had historic preservation. A lot of those houses were the reason that a lot of people wanted to have the historic preservation.”
Hardy went on to express the HPC’s concern that the McLartys are not only doubling but, rather, quadrupling the size of their home.
Several surrounding homes in the McLartys’ neighborhood range around 2,300 square feet. Turner noted that expanding the house to 2,360 square feet would not be a dramatic change to the neighborhood’s appearance.
“You’re not going from a 2,200 [square foot house] to a 1,400 next door, so in scale of what’s surrounding it, I think it stays within that scale,” Turner said. “I know it’s a large increase, but it’s also not domineering over any of the other residents.”
“And we talked about that at length,” Hardy responded. “Again, just because things happened in the past, it doesn’t mean that we need to keep doing it. I think that we are about to lose the eclectic irregularity that is one of the defining features of downtown Oxford, and we’re trying really, really hard to protect that.”
Alderman Janice Antonow stepped in and asked, “Is there some middle ground here? The house is so small.”
Turner said the McLartys have tried hard to meet the standards of the HPC.
“They’re keeping a lot of the historical features, and they’re adding other features which would be in keeping with the historical virtues of the house,” he said.
Mayor Tannehill again presented the options being placed before the Board, either to uphold the decision made by the HPC or to overturn the HPC’s decision. Tannehill also said that if the appeal were not granted, the McLartys could come back with a different design.
“If you should wish to send it back,” Daniel said, “sending it with some instructions of what they might want to think about in reconsidering would be helpful.”
Alderman John Morgan expressed his opinion bluntly: “There are some things that are just not that historical in value. The house is a piece of junk.”
Morgan then made a motion to overturn the HPC’s decision, but not all of the aldermen approved. Antonow and Preston Taylor both opposed it.
“Oh, that’s great,” Tannehill said. “The appeal is granted.”

By Randall Haley, associate editor of HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at randall.haley@hottytoddy.com.

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