Mixed opinions on Oxford parking garage plan

This is a view of the proposed parking garage from Octoraro Alley.

OXFORD >> Public reaction to a proposed parking garage in the borough was mixed at a town hall meeting on Tuesday night at Ware Presbyterian Village.

Some said it would be a boon to growth and business, while others expressed fears that it would just turn into another tax burden.

The meeting, hosted by the borough council, drew about 150 people to the chapel at the retirement village. Exhibits were set up in the back of the room showing what the proposed garage would look like and how it would fit into the landscape.

The presenters included Borough Council President Ron Hershey; state Sen. John Lawrence, R-13 of Kemblesville; economic developer Pauline Garcia-Allen; Borough Manager Brian Hoover and architect Steve Krug.

Lawrence, clearly in favor of the $6.5 million project, led off the evening advising his audience that the borough leadership has been talking about parking needs for years. He also said it is often the case that potential visitors and shoppers would come more often to Oxford “If I can find a spot to park..”

With some negotiating, he said, the National Penn Bank on South Third Street has sold its street-level parking lot to the borough for $1. This is an area where many people now park for free and it would be the location chosen for the new, four story parking garage, which would also hold a new borough office on the ground floor.

He said it is a good location because it is in the midst of the commercial district in town, but being behind the Octoraro Hotel, it would not intrude on the borough’s main street.

He added that the project has already attracted significant commitments of funding from state and county sources.

Garcia-Allen, Director of Development Services for Econ Partners Inc., enthusiastically spoke about the positive aspects of building the garage and the attractive location that Oxford has geographically.

She said it would lead to economic and community development as well as having an impact on transit.

Already in the past five years, Oxford has shown signs of growth and with more parking will thrive even more, she said. And with a transit loop at street level, the new garage would provide a stopping and loading point for buses to large urban centers like Philadelphia and Baltimore as well a shopping connection for students at Lincoln University.

Hoover took on the financial aspects of the garage with a pie chart that showed that about 59 percent or $3.8 million has already been secured from granting sources. Another $1.2 million has been committed by businesses, leaving $1.5 million to be raised by the borough. That, he said would be paid for by a bond issue.

He cited figures that showed that even with the most conservative estimates, fees for parking in the garage combined with a boost from street side parking meters would pay for the upkeep and maintenance.

During the hour-long public comment and question period there was still skepticism from borough residents, who had recently been traumatized with a 30 percent increase in sewer rates, widely said to be caused by poor planning and mismanagement.

One visitor asked what businesses would use the garage.

Lawrence said businesses would be attracted to the town when they realized there was parking.

Main Street Manager Donna Hosler added that she regularly gets calls from companies that want to come to Oxford, but when they hear there is not designated parking for their employees, they search for sites elsewhere.

Overall, it appeared that business owners were enthusiastic about the possibility of more parking, while residents outside the commercial-retail community wanted to know what would happen if it failed. Other concerns were security and the possibility of incorrect projected income.

Larry Drennen of Oxford Feed and Lumber said with so much committed funding in place “We are getting a bargain.”

Longtime Oxford resident Paul Andriole said he would like to see it taken to a referendum, even if it were an informal polling of the population.

Veteran community activist Dick Winchester said he agreed with Andriole on that point, and he cited a recent editorial in the New York Times that said the concept of Main Street is a myth.

Late in the meeting, in answer to some of the comments, Lawrence said more and more businesses were finding Oxford is the “place to be,” citing the Tastykake business to settle in Oxford as an example.

Referencing the location and the potential commitment already in place, he said just about every potential company owner looking to develop “from here to Erie” wants a project like this.

Hershey said the borough council would continue to seek input and consider the statements made at the meeting.

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