Parking garage project moves forward in Oxford
● By Steven Hoffman
Through three different votes on Monday night, Oxford Borough Council took the biggest step yet toward authorizing the construction of a parking garage and new borough administration building in downtown Oxford.
The parking garage project has been a topic of discussion in Oxford since a comprehensive parking study was completed in 2015. After nearly two years of discussions, there was very little debate before the vote, which was part of a special meeting for borough council.
Borough council voted 4-1 in favor of moving forward with the parking garage and then authorized two significant expenditures associated with the project, also by the same vote.
Council president Ron Hershey and Randy Grace, John Thompson, and Gary Tozzo approved moving forward with the project, while council member Peggy Ann Russell voted against it. Council members Sue Lombardi and Paul Matthews were not present at the meeting.
Russell said that she couldn’t vote for the project right now because of uncertainty that still remains regarding funding for the project, and the potential impact that that could have on borough residents. There are also ongoing concerns about the impact the Oxford Area Sewer Authority’s financial issues might have on taxpayers. Russell said that she regularly hears from residents expressing their concerns about the costs of the parking garage.
“I don't feel comfortable voting for this transit center at this point,” Russell said. She added, however, that her hope is that the parking garage turns out to be the right decision for the borough, and that one day her vote against the project will turn out to be the wrong one.
Hershey said that he hears from residents about the parking garage project too, and many of them have voiced their enthusiasm for the project. He added that while there is some risk involved with undertaking such a large project, there is a potential to move the borough forward. The parking garage is seen as a way to attract businesses and restaurants to town.
After borough council affirmed its support for the parking garage project, some in the standing-room-only crowd responded with cheers.
Jim Price, who owns buildings in town, said that Oxford is taking advantage of a rare opportunity to construct the parking garage. He said that boosting economic development in the downtown would be beneficial and could help alleviate the tax burden on residents.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Nancy Ware Sapp, a business owner in town, said that the approval of the parking garage will be beneficial as she works to transform a historic building on Locust Street into a bed-and-breakfast. She said that she will be purchasing ten spots in a parking garage so that her guests will have access to parking. She said that her late father, John H. Ware IV, who was a longtime Oxford Borough Council member and a generous benefactor for the town, would be proud of Oxford’s decision to move forward on the project.
Several other business owners in town offered their support for the project, which has evolved over time. Initially, the project included just a parking garage on lot between Second Street and Third Street, but that morphed into a transit center as the borough saw the opportunity to increase access to public transportation for people who live and work in Oxford. Then the borough administration building also became part of the project as the borough has $1 million in funding that was gifted to it by an anonymous donor more than ten years ago for the purpose of acquiring a new borough building.
The entire parking garage project is estimated to cost about $7 million. So far, Oxford has been able to secure slightly more than $3 million in grant funding for the project. The effort to secure additional funding is still underway. The goal is to minimize the potential impact to taxpayers by limiting the amount that will be borrowed.
Borough manager Brian Hoover has said that the borough will be able to absorb the year-to-year costs to maintain the parking garage through parking revenues.
Randy Teel, a business owner and former council member, probably summed up the feelings of a lot of borough residents when he said, “I am in favor of the parking garage as long as you don't raise my taxes to pay for it.”
In a related issue, borough council authorized the appointment of Steven A. Krug, for architectural design services which includes structural engineering and mechanical plumbing and electrical engineering services. The contract is for $360,000. Krug handled the preparation of the parking study and has also facilitated the borough’s efforts to secure funding for the project up to this point.
Council also approved the appointment of a civil engineer, Spotts, Stevens, and McCoy for professional engineering and survey services associated with the planning and development of the proposed transportation center. The contract is for $115,700.
Toward the conclusion of the meeting, Tozzo pointed out that the costs that the borough is incurring with the two appointments that were made will be paid for with the $1 million in gift money that the borough received for the new administration building. This funding will also be utilized as part of the matching funds needed for some of the grants. There will be no impact on the borough’s budget as a result of these expenditures.