Oxford council revisits downtown bench issue

OXFORD — Quality-of-life issues can come down to features like benches and sidewalks, and people have differing opinions. At its July 14 meeting, Oxford Borough Council heard continuing resident complaints, even though council last month voted to re-install two benches on Third Street near Market.

Borough business property owner Vernon Ringler started off the meeting asking that council change its stand and not replace these benches. “They create a negative influence for downtown businesses,” Ringler said. “They are an annoyance, they are a nuisance, and they are not good for business.”

The major complaints about the benches have centered on the people who gather there using profanity, and creating an environment that is disturbing to people trying to do business in the stores with just a window separating them from the disruptive influences. “Strangers who come to Oxford get a negative impression of what they see and do not return,” Ringler said.

Last month, when council members voted to return the benches as soon as facade improvements are completed on the nearby buildings, they hoped the issue would be closed, at least until the benches come back and their impact can be seen. If business owners are having problems with people on the benches behaving improperly, they are encouraged to call the police to take action.


“I’m not opposed to removing these benches in the long run, but I’ve got to have some hard facts,” councilman Randy Grace said.

One suggestion by Oxford Mainstreet Inc. Director Sue Cole was to move the benches to the lower end of Market Street, where residents of Oxford Terrace tend to sit alongside the sidewalk in lawn chairs.

Grace does not see that as a good solution. “We’re not fixing the problem, we’re relocating it,” he said. “We’ve got to attack the problem, and the problem is not the bench, it is the people that are on the bench. The only way is to report it to the police and have them come out and do what they have to do.”

Public comment took longer than the business portion of the meeting, with other residents adding to the list of issues. Resident Etha McDowell recently broke her ankle while walking her dog along Mt. Vernon Street by tripping in a rough area were there are no sidewalks.

She came to remind council that there are ordinances in place that require sidewalks to be installed when a property is sold or construction is done. She urged council to enforce those ordinances rather than waive those requirements, as has often done in the recent past.

“I know this is an historic problem, but it is not getting any better,” McDowell said. “We need sidewalks that are safe.”

Parking issues are also a long-debated item in the borough, with the latest twist being the addition of parking meters to the lot on Niblock Alley. Since they were installed, the lot is very sparsely used, and there are concerns about where business employees will now park.

One option that council is looking at is permit parking that business owners could purchase to reserve for their employees. That idea is still under consideration and no action has been taken at this time.

Getting any improvements done downtown is challenging for the borough this year. In the case of paving for North Fifth Street, and Mt. Pleasant, there were no bidders on the project, so it will have to be advertised again in hopes of finding a contractor interested in doing the work.

The problems may be even bigger for the Market Street revitalization project that the borough had hoped to implement this year. Because Market Street is a state-controlled highway, approval is needed from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation before the work on the adjacent sidewalks, streetlights and landscaping can be done.

The list of items that PennDOT wants to have addressed is 37 points long, including a requirement for the borough to replace a handicapped ramp on the sidewalk that PennDOT installed incorrectly, and the borough has complained about.

“Right now, we’re not even sure we can start it this year,” Borough Manager Betsy Brantner said. “We can’t proceed till they tell us we can proceed.”

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