Oxford Borough Council reaffirms support for parking garage project
By Steven Hoffman
Oxford Borough has been successful in obtaining funding for the proposed 300-space parking garage and transit center that would be constructed on a parking lot near the center of the borough's business district. So far, the borough has secured more than $1 million in grant money, and officials are optimistic that applications for additional grants from county, state, and federal sources will result in additional funding to help pay for the projected $5.7 million project.
At Monday night's meeting, Oxford Borough Council voted 6-0 in favor of a resolution that reaffirmed borough council's support and partnership in the parking garage project. Council president Ron Hershey emphasized that the resolution does not obligate the borough to move forward with the plan to construct a parking garage, nor does it commit the borough to spend any additional money for the project at this time. Instead, by approving the resolution, borough council is simply reaffirming that it wants to continue the process of seeking funding for the project.
“Basically, what it says is that borough council believes in the parking structure project,” borough manager Brian Hoover said.
A 2015 study concluded that a parking garage would offer a long-term solution to the parking issues that have hindered Oxford's efforts at attracting new businesses, especially a larger one that would serve as an anchor to the rest of the business district. From the start, the project was dependent on the borough's ability to secure funding from county and state sources. Elected officials are aware that the borough already has a high millage rate, and they don't want to further burden residents with the costs of purchasing and maintaining a parking garage. Oxford enlisted Steve Krug of Krug Architects and Pauline Garcia-Allen, of Econ Partners to serve as consultants to lead the effort to obtain grant funding. Krug Architects has successfully helped other Pennsylvania municipalities, including West Chester Borough, build parking garages as a way to encourage economic development in the commercial district.
In Oxford's case, the project has now evolved to include a transit center that could boost access to public transportation for people who live and work in Oxford Borough.
At Monday night's council meeting, Hershey talked about how the project could also include a new administration building since the current building has long been too small for the borough's purposes. An anonymous donor gave the borough a gift of $1 million more than a decade ago, with the stipulation that the money be used toward the purchase of a new borough hall. Oxford officials have explored possible options for a new borough hall since the gift was made, but they haven't moved beyond the early exploration stage. Hershey said that overall they currently have about $1.2 million in gift money that could be used for the new administration building. By incorporating the borough hall as part of this project, and utilizing the gift money, it could reduce the amount of money that the borough would need to raise through parking revenue bonds.
Several residents at the meeting expressed their concerns that taxpayers would be left paying for the parking garage. One such resident was Zoe Walsh, who said during public comment that she doesn't agree with borough council approving the resolution affirming council's support and partnership in the project. Walsh explained that she objects to the resolution because of concerns that she and other residents have about the costs of maintaining the parking garage on an ongoing basis. Walsh said that she understands that the proposed parking garage may be largely funded through grants, but there will be costs to maintain the parking garage that could be an added burden for residents. She also has concerns that the parking garage won't be full, which could leave the Borough of Oxford short on its revenue projections, creating an additional burden that taxpayers will need to pay for.
There were several business owners at the meeting who support the concept of a parking garage because it will be utilized by their customers, and it could also help attract new businesses. Some larger businesses, like some restaurants that could serve as an anchor for the business district, won't even consider expanding to a town that doesn't already have an adequate supply of parking in place.
“Until we have the parking garage, we won't have the jobs,” Hershey said.
Council member Randy Grace pointed out that there are times when it's difficult to park in the business district, and one of the borough's largest businesses—the Octoraro Hotel and Tavern—has been closed as it gets rebuilt after a fire. Parking will continue to be an issue if the problem never gets addressed.
Hershey reiterated that the approval of the resolution doesn't obligate the borough to move forward with the project right now. Borough officials can see how much grant funding will be available for the project, and then make the decision.
“If we see that it's not going to work financially, we can pull the plug,” Hershey said. “There will be public meetings in the future. There will be plenty of resolutions in the future.”
Council member Peggy Ann Russell said that council is taking a cautious approach to the parking garage.
“I'm moving forward inch by inch,” Russell said. “We have to see that we can sustain it.”
Hoover pointed out that a project like building a parking garage has to be considered with the future in mind. The parking garage could help the borough's business district for decades.
“The decisions that you make today will affect the borough for the next 50 years,” Hoover said. “I think we're headed in the right direction. I think the future is very bright for the Borough of Oxford.”
In another action related to the parking garage, borough council authorized sending a revised ordinance pertaining to the height of buildings in the downtown district to the county for an Act 247 Review by officials to ensure that Oxford's proposed ordinance meets the accepted standards. The ordinance is necessary to allow for the construction of the parking garage.
Council member Paul Matthews, speaking during public comment, offered a reminder that Wednesday, March 1 is Eli Seth Matthews Day, in memory of his son who passed away after a courageous fight against childhood cancer. Everyone is encouraged to wear red and black, Eli's favorite colors, that day.