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Do new guidelines mean new look for Oxford?


The historic Oxford Square is known for its rich history and colorful atmosphere, but to be maintained, design guidelines must be set in place. 

Guidelines were first established in 2003 in order to preserve buildings that lie within the historic districts of Oxford. 

Assistant City Planner Katrina Hourin, who played an active role in reorganizing the guidelines, said they will not affect residents or businesses located outside the historic districts, including the University of Mississippi.

“I sat down with the consultant we hired, and we went through the old guidelines, looking at notes I made over the years,” Hourin said. “We reworked them so that they made more sense – you can see in the old guidebooks they don’t make a whole lot of sense, and as a result, people didn’t refer to them as much.”

These new and improved guidelines have been made user-friendly, complete with colored maps of the different historic districts, a table of contents  and some updates and amendments.

For example, there is now a section entirely devoted to the proper installment of solar panels.

“If someone wanted to install solar panes in the past, we didn’t have a language for that,” Hourin said.

The guidelines are used not only by the residents in the historic districts and property owners on the Square, but also by the two Preservation Commissions.

Julie Spears, Oxford resident and member of the Historic Preservation Commission, said she was glad to see the guidelines updated.

“We drastically needed the new guidelines,” she said. “The old ones were very difficult to navigate and made it hard for us as commission members. It could be discouraging.”

Although the guidelines include a handful of buildings on the Square, new restaurants do not fall under their umbrella, including the new Checkers on the corner of South Lamar and University Avenue. 

Sophomore marketing major Martin Powell believes having the Checkers so close to the Square goes against what the Historic Preservation Committee is working toward.

“I do think having a chain restaurant detracts from the historic vibes of the Square,” he said.

Mike Bridge is a property owner on the Square and a member of the Courthouse Perservation Commission, and he is less-than-thrilled to have the chain restaurant sitting among buildings that have history in Oxford. 

“The new Checkers building that is right off the Square is a monstrosity,” he said. “Those who have invested in maintaining the property are tied to the historic nature of the Square and have more than just a civic interest in the Square. There is an economic interest as well.”

Junior philosophy major Ian Kirkpatrick feels different about the new addition. 

“I think that Checkers is far enough away from the Square,” he said. “It doesn’t take anything away from the atmosphere the Square has.

“Look at the Chevron and Abner’s across the street — both businesses don’t necessarily add anything to the Square. I don’t see anyone complaining about them.”  

Even though the new guidelines will not cover new buildings like Checkers, they will deal with renovations to resident homes that fall under the four other historic districts.

In order for residents living in the historical districts to make renovations or alter the exterior of their homes, they must first appear before the Historic Preservation Commission and present the changes they want to make.

The commission then decides if the plans meet the guidelines. 

If they do, the resident can go ahead with his or her renovations, and if not, the commission can deny the resident’s request.

The homeowners usually go back to the drawing board, but if they feel their changes have merit, they can appeal before the Board of Alderman, which have the final say in the matter.

The guidelines themselves are not rules or laws to be strictly followed, which creates a gray area for homeowners who do not wish to follow the guidelines.

According to Spears, the commission handles each request on a case-to-case basis. 

“It’s not black and white,” she said. 

“It’s our goal not just to protect the architecture but the culture as well and the history, the social and the economic values.”

Change always happens over time and businesses that were on the Square for years have been replaced with stores that cater to a different crowd. 

What the preservation committee hopes to do with these updated guidelines is to make sure that the value and character of these buildings stays the same.