We don’t have a subscription to the digital Oxford Eagle edition, but our Oxford friends have been rumbling recently about a preservation issue that’s been in the news. The controversy sprang from a demolition request for an 1890 Queen Anne house at 1405 Madison, located within the city’s local historic district, which is overseen by the Historic Preservation Commission (there’s a separate commission that oversees the Courthouse Square). The house is also a contributing building in the North Lamar Historic District, listed on the National Register in 2007.
The owner, Dr. Tom Tann, stated that he had bought the house planning to renovate but then decided to build new after seeing its level of deterioration (the house had been vacant for some time). At its March 12, 2013 meeting, the commission voted 4-2 to deny a demolition permit and voted 5-1 to deny the permit for the new larger house.
You can read the minutes of the meeting helpfully posted by the City of Oxford at its website (scroll down to #9): http://www.oxfordms.net/documents/boards/hpc/minutes/HPC-2013-03-12.pdf
Here are two scale drawings showing the two buildings in comparison to each other–you can see the huge difference in scale immediately:
Dr. Tann appealed these decisions to the Oxford Board of Aldermen, which considered the matter at its April 2 meeting. The Board of Aldermen overturned the denial of demolition permit, 7-0; and also overturned the Commission’s denial of a Certificate of Appropriateness for its proposed replacement by a vote of 5-2. With these actions, the Board of Aldermen made a decision not to support its own Commission and not to enforce its historic preservation ordinance. While historic preservation commissions are city boards, they are composed, like many zoning commissions, of volunteers who give their time and expertise to help preserve historic neighborhoods in compliance with local ordinances. Some city boards respect the decisions of their commissions and only overturn when due process has been denied. But here Oxford’s leadership clearly decided that what they really want is more McMansions and high-rise condos and fewer real historic buildings in their decreasingly historic town.
I can’t seem to find the minutes for the Board of Aldermen meeting.
I have heard but haven’t confirmed that one or more historic preservation commissioners have resigned in protest.
It’s great to have a few big landmarks, like Rowan Oak and Ammadelle, but historic neighborhoods are made up of older houses like this one that contribute to the narrative of the town and its sense of place with their architectural style, scale, and craftsmanship. If those qualities are not important to the City, then perhaps they should drop the charade, repeal the preservation ordinance and reconstitute the commission as an architectural review board on the order of Madison or other suburban developments that cash in on fake history and a faux sense of quality.