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Village may ask voters to sell properties

Located at 1 N. Washington St., the building that houses the Northeast Oakland Historical Museum is one of the publicly-owned properties the village may consider selling. (click for larger version)
May 18, 2011 - Oxford Village is looking for some additional revenue to help beef up its 2011-12 budget, so officials are considering asking voters for permission to sell some public properties.

It's by no means a sure thing, but last week council indicated it would like its attorney to draft some ballot language seeking voters' permission to sell the Northeast Oakland Historical Museum building (1 N. Washington St.) and 3.125 acres of vacant land, located south of Dayton St. and west of Pleasant St.

"We don't have to enact it, but at least we're planning ahead," said village President Teri Stiles. "And I know that's going to start rumors within the community that the village is going to sell everything off."

Stiles said that's not true, council is simply "doing our research."

Voter-approval is required by the village charter "to sell any property of value in excess of five dollars per capita, according to the last preceding U.S. Census."

Based on the 2010 Census which counted 3,436 people in the village, any property worth more than $17,180 requires a vote.

Village Manager Joe Young informed council there is someone interested in purchasing the museum, but he did not disclose who it is. He also indicated the museum's value to be somewhere in the range of $150,000 to $250,000.

The museum building, which housed Oxford Savings Bank from 1922-66, has been owned by the village since January 1972 when the bank deeded it over to the municipality for this specific purpose.

For nearly 40 years, the building's housed and displayed local artifacts and been operated by volunteers from the Northeast Oakland Historical Society.

Because it's village-owned property, no property taxes are paid on the museum building and the municipality pays 100 percent of the heat and electrical bills, which amount to approximately $2,500 annually.

Young suggested the possibility of moving the museum's items over to the old township hall at 18 W. Burdick St., which consists of 2,500 square feet plus a basement.

With the township parks and recreation department planning to move its offices out of the adjacent space, Young noted that could free up an additional 2,000 square feet for the museum.

Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth asked Young if he talked to anyone from the historical society about the possibility of selling the museum and he replied, "No."

"So, you have no idea what their feeling is about this," she said.

Helmuth suggested the village talk with the historical society to determine their feelings and listen to their arguments.

Historical Society President Gerald Griffin, of Oxford, indicated he was contacted about the situation by Young on Monday.

Griffin said for now, he's opposed to moving the museum because "we have no place to go" and the current location is "an ideal building for a museum."

However, his opposition isn't set in stone.

"I'm opposed to it, unless we can find something that's equally as good or the price is right," Griffin noted. "We've got a lot of artifacts there and we just can't move into a basement somewhere and call it a museum. That's my thinking anyway."

Griffin said he and the society members would discuss the issue with village officials when there's something more concrete.

Technically, the village, if voter-approval was obtained, could sell the museum property to a private party because the restriction mandating it only be used for a public purpose (i.e. the museum) expired in 1997. Since then, the village has been free to do anything it wants with the building.

The idea of selling the old bank building to a private party and moving the local museum elsewhere is not a new one.

It was discussed at length at a January 2008 meeting of the Downtown Development Authority. All of the historical society members who attended that meeting vocally opposed to the idea.

In addition to the museum, council might also consider selling four vacant parcels (totalling 3.125 acres) that the village owns off Pleasant and Dayton streets.

The village held a public hearing regarding this land in March 2005 and the majority of residents who spoke back then favored either developing the land into a park for neighborhood children or keeping it as open space.

If housing was ever built on the property, the residents at the time favored single family homes and staunchly opposed any multiple family developments such as apartments, condominiums or a retirement facility.

According to the village zoning map, three of the four parcels are zoned R-1 (single family homes), while the fourth parcel (which borders Pleasant St.) is split between R-1 and industrial zoning.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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