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Chester County Press

Large crowd turns out for Oxford parking garage discussion

03/20/2018 01:13PM ● By Steven Hoffman

The March 19 meeting of Oxford Borough Council was moved from borough hall to a larger venue—the Oxford Area Senior Center—to accommodate a big crowd as the proposed parking garage project was once again at the forefront of a council agenda. Approximately 50 residents turned out for the meeting, and a lively discussion ensued as borough council listened to numerous residents and business owners as they expressed their views regarding the project.

Some of the comments were in favor of the parking garage, while other residents had concerns about the impact the parking garage will have on the borough.

Wilson King, a longtime business and property owner in the commercial district, talked about how organizations like the Oxford Arts Alliance are bringing more people to the downtown. He said that the parking garage is already needed, and the demand for parking will only continue to grow in the coming years.

“I think, in the next ten years, Oxford is going to get better and better,” King said.

Judy Petersen, the executive director of Oxford Arts Alliance, echoed King's sentiments. She said that the Oxford Arts Alliance employs 17 people and brings about 150 students to town each week for the various classes and programs that the Arts Alliance offers. The Arts Alliance also attracts many visitors to town for its gallery shows. Petersen said that the two most frequently asked questions from visitors is where to eat in town and where to park—and she believes that the parking garage will help.

“I'm glad that the parking garage is coming in,” Petersen said.

Others were less enthusiastic about the parking garage project.

Borough resident Dick Winchester talked about the ongoing financial woes of the Oxford Area Sewer Authority. Oxford Borough is one of four member municipalities of the sewer authority, and the organization has struggled financially since it missed debt-service payments on a $27 million USDA loan in 2016. Winchester expressed concerns that the borough and the other member municipalities will be called upon later this year to make good on the debt-service payments that the sewer authority is late on, and the financial position that this would put the borough in. The sewer authority has raised rates and taken steps to improve the financial situation, but still is not on strong enough financial ground to meet the obligations, leaving a potential burden for local residents to be concerned about.

“The elephant in the room is the Oxford Area Sewer Authority,” Winchester stated.

Etha McDowell, a borough resident, said that she has concerns about the parking garage project, chief among them the possibility that borough property owners will be forced to bear the costs of constructing and maintaining the parking garage.

Borough manager Brian Hoover responded to some of the concerns, outlining why borough officials are convinced that the parking garage will be a revenue generator for Oxford. He explained that since the borough overhauled parking regulations—recently introducing parking permits for residential neighborhoods and adding parking kiosks to three small, borough-owned parking lots in the downtown that had previously been un-metered. The borough manager said that Oxford has collected $25,000 in parking permit revenues—some of the permits are monthly, some are quarterly, and some are yearly.

The borough last year also increased the parking rates at metered spots to boost the revenues collected. In the first month of having the parking lots metered, with the new parking rates in effect, it is estimated that the collections from parking meters will amount to $9,000. Extrapolate that out over a full year, and the revenues coming in to the borough will surpass the totals from previous years.

“That will continue to grow,” Hoover said of the parking meter revenues.

The borough manager added that the borough is working with all the property owners in the downtown to make sure that they have the appropriate parking for tenants who live in apartments in the buildings in the downtown—one parking space for a one-bedroom apartment, and two parking spaces for two-bedroom apartments.

Hoover explained that before Oxford overhauled its parking regulations, it was all the borough residents, through their taxes, who paid about $48,000 annually for the costs of providing parking in downtown. The goal is to now have the people who utilize the parking to pay for it through the parking permits or meters.

Once the parking garage is constructed, Hoover said, the total parking revenues from permits, meters, and the parking garage are estimated to total approximately $224,000 annually—and that's using extremely conservative estimates.

Hoover said that if the borough borrows $2 million, which would be at the higher end of what would be needed after all the grant funding is factored in, it would take $144,000 annually to make the debt-service payments.

Several residents had lingering concerns about the proposed parking garage. Borough resident Jim Sumner, himself a former council member, said that he has gone past the Broad Street parking lots that are now metered, and he has seen that people are no longer parking there because they do not want to pay for parking.

Leda Widdoes, a resident and also former council member, said that since the new parking regulations went into effect, people have been parking their cars in residential neighborhoods, including near where she lives. She decried the loss of free parking in the borough, especially for shoppers visiting the downtown businesses.

“What free parking we had, you took it away,” Widdoes said.

Several people talked about how more parking is necessary for Oxford to grow its commercial tax base.

Oxford Area Chamber of Commerce president Eric Maholmes, who works for Flowers Baking Company in Oxford, talked about how the business is making another major investment in the production facility.

“Oxford is growing, and our company is doing its part,” he said.

Pauline Garcia-Allen of Econ Partners, who has served as a consultant facilitating the parking garage project, lauded the Oxford community, including organizations like Oxford Mainstreet, Inc. and the Oxford Arts Alliance for collaborating so effectively for the good of the town. Garcia-Allen said that a lack of parking has long been a barrier for Oxford Borough. Several different parking studies that included surveys identified parking as a pressing issue.

Just how long has parking been an issue in Oxford? Jim Price, a property owner in the downtown, read a letter that was published on May 18, 1971 that talked about how the downtown businesses had to take steps to thrive in the face of competition from shopping centers—which were relatively new to the surrounding area back then. The letter concluded by saying that no progressive businessman could say that parking is adequate in downtown Oxford. That was in 1971.

After nearly two hours of public comment, borough council continued with its agenda, which included taking action on some land-development issues related to the parking garage project.

Kim Fasnacht, a project manager with Spotts, Stevens, and McCoy, the design engineer working on the parking garage plans, outlined some details about why the project requires a waiver from the stormwater management regulations.

The Chester County Planning Commission and the borough’s planning commission both reviewed the land-development plans. The Chester County Planning Commission is an advisory board, and made some points for borough officials to consider. Some of those points have already been addressed as the plans continue to evolve. The borough’s planning commission made the recommendation that borough council approve the waiver, which it did by a unanimous vote.

Work on the planning for the parking garage has really intensified in the last few weeks, as borough officials look to handle the myriad details that need to be handled in order for the project to continue through the planning phase.

Steve Krug of Krug Architects told council that the Union Fire Company No. 1 of Oxford is currently in the process of reviewing the plans to ensure that adequate fire protection can be provided to the site. Krug also said that finalized building drawings should be made available in April.

If everything goes as planned, shovels could be in the ground to start the construction of the garage in August or September.