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Council hears opposition to outdoor cafe

If both Oxford Village’s planning commission and elected council approve, this paved space on the north side of Centennial Park will be transformed into a 390-square-foot outdoor cafe for the Ox Bar & Grill’s patrons. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
June 22, 2011 - Opposition to allowing a downtown restaurant to operate an outdoor cafe in Oxford Village's Centennial Park was high at last week's council meeting.

"We're not in favor of having the park being picked away into pieces and given to private businesses to use. It's a public park," said Jan Burns, a member of the Oxford Garden Club and former member of the village's Beautification Commission.

At issue is the Ox Bar & Grill's request to utilize a 390-square-foot (15-foot-by-26-foot) portion of the park – located on the north side, adjacent to the garden – as a fenced-in outdoor cafe for restaurant customers between April 15 and Nov. 1

The proposed cafe would be located on a section of park land that is currently paved and contains two table-and-bench sets installed for public use. The proposed cafe would contain nine tables capable of seating 30 Ox customers.

Burns, along with Garden Club members Carole Doemer, Barbara Blanock and Chris McNally, came to the meeting to oppose the cafe and its potential impact on the garden area, which is maintained by the club using volunteers and donations.

"We're a little concerned about maintenance. Right now, we're already picking up all kinds of trash out of that garden. It seems to be the trash can . . . for the Ox," said Burns, noting it's primarily cigarette butts even though there is a waste receptacle right outside the eatery.

Doemer requested that if an outdoor cafe is allowed, it be moved to the west end, away from the club's garden, "so that we could at least maintain a semblance of order and beauty at the area that we take care of."

Blanock told council, "It's not a huge park. It's a very nice park. We don't need it taken over." But Garden Club members weren't the only ones expressing opposition.

"I think it would be a serious mistake to take piece by piece of this area and make it commercial," said village resident Elgin Nichols, who was appointed to the village planning commission at that same meeting.

"I am opposed to this use of the park by the Ox," said Joe Bullen, chairman of the Beautification Commission. "We are so proud of our park out there and we think it's such an asset. This is a little jewel in our community. We, the Beautification Commission, do not want to see that used privately, period."

"I'm not in favor of an encroachment on public property for a business," said Councilman Tom Benner.

Since the outdoor cafe would be allowed to stay open until 11 p.m., Benner worried about the potential impact of noise on the residential areas near the park.

"I'm not in favor of allowing this because the residents that have to put up with it are taxpayers," the councilman said. "They are entitled to their privacy and they are entitled to their rest. I'm not in favor of any of this."

Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth noted the village has already allowed an outdoor cafe on public property, referring to the 24th Street Sports Tavern's outdoor seating area, part of which is on public land and part of which is on private property.

"I don't see how you can allow one business owner to encroach on public property and not let another encroach on public property," she said.

Madonna VanFossen, director of the Downtown Development Authority, said developing more outdoor cafes and green spaces fits in with the DDA's plans to make the entire downtown area more pedestrian-friendly and calm traffic along M-24.

"We want to create an atmosphere where people are going to want to come and live and eat and play and work, all of those things, in Oxford," she said.

In order for the Ox Bar & Grill to make its outdoor seating area a reality, it must be in compliance with the zoning ordinance and gain approval from the village planning commission. Village Manager Joe Young said the Ox already "got approval" from the state Liquor Control Commission for the "design and layout" of the proposed outdoor seating area.

The last step is for the plan to come before the village council for final approval.

This approval process was established by the village council at a May 2009 meeting when officials voted 3-2 to approve the concept of allowing four downtown eateries, including the Ox Bar & Grill, to set up outdoor cafes on public property located next to their buildings.

The meeting minutes from May 2009 erroneously state the approved council motion was for "private property."

Council has yet to take any action to correct this inaccuracy for the record.

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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