Former restaurant space could become new coffee house, church in Oxford historic house

City of Oxford sign.
City of Oxford sign.

A coffee shop, church combination has been proposed.

One of the city’s historical houses, long a popular restaurant, may get new life after standing unused for more than a year during the pandemic.

City Council held first reading of an ordinance June 1, which would allow the former Alexander House to be used in an unusual coffee shop-church combination. The proposal had come before the Planning Commission last month and members voted 7-0-0 to recommend approval to Council with three conditions.

Presentation of the proposal was made by Community Development Director Sam Perry, who explained it is a zoning action involving a proposal to convert a building not previously used as a church and telling Council, “The impacts seem to be positive.”

The plan, he said, is to have a coffee house on the first floor and to use the second floor for church services. Petitioner is a pastor from a church in the Cincinnati area.

The staff report involving the request was prepared by Planner Zachary Moore.

“Pastor Tom Ellis is requesting a Conditional Use approval for a property he is looking to purchase at 22 N. College Avenue. This particular property is known as the Dr. William S. Alexander House, a historic landmark that has been on the National Register since 1987,” Moore wrote. “The house was most recently occupied by the Sushi Nara Japanese Restaurant, which closed in April 2020 and the property has remained vacant since. The applicant is looking to rehabilitate the structure and start up a new coffee shop business (Redlife Coffee House) on the first floor while also utilizing the second floor for church functions with a planned auditorium space to accommodate up to 75 people at one time.”

Ellis was on hand at the meeting and spoke only briefly.

“Thank you for considering this addition to the community, with an upgrade to the building,” he said.

Perry said Ellis will proceed with design for the work to be done to the building once this conditional use is approved. That work, he said, will include an elevator.

Ellis is pastor of The Calvary Church in Springdale.

Council members brought up the issue of parking, which had also been a discussion at Planning Commission and was part of the staff comments when the commission considered the request. It was noted in that staff report that an influx of 75 people would create a strain on parking as only on-street and metered parking is available.

“While the building may be able to accommodate 75 people for restaurant service, in that usage guests arrive at separate times, creating staggered arrival and departure times, unlike 75 people gathering for a set start time as for a meeting,” that report noted.

Vice Mayor Bill Snavely said plans for Tuesday evening services could impact parking in the area as people seek parking for City Council meetings, which are the first and third Tuesdays of each month. Snavely said the number of parking spaces within a five-minute walk of the building would not create much of a problem on Sundays, but the Tuesday night question is a concern.

Council member Edna Southard favored the plan.

“It is an excellent use of the space,” she said. “It is good for the economy and good for the people.”

Mayor Mike Smith called it “an interesting concept.”

The ordinance is scheduled for second reading at this week’s Council meeting on Tuesday.