Oxford Music Academy must find new space after traffic concerns

The Oxford Music Academy is on the hunt for a new place to operate after Oxford City Council voted 4-3 to deny the private school’s request to continue operating out of the owner’s home in a residential neighborhood.

ExploreFIRST REPORT: Private school’s traffic stirs debate in Oxford neighborhood

Jon Sanford established Oxford Music Academy in 2016 at his home on McKee Avenue to provide private music lessons to children. Because the number of students and instructors he worked with violated the zoning rules on home businesses, he applied for a conditional use exception for the school earlier this year.

The first conditional use meeting sparked debate among Oxford residents. Parents of children enrolled at Oxford Music Academy said the lessons were valuable enough to keep the business around, but many neighbors expressed concerns about safety due to increased vehicle traffic in the area from the business’s customers.

“There is a strong burden of proof to provide any exceptions to the zoning code,” Mayor Kate Rousmaniere said.

Traffic has been the focus of the debate around the Oxford Music Academy since the first public hearing in June. According to the Academy, about 50 cars per week come through the neighborhood for lessons. Critics argued that the additional cars posed a threat to families walking in the street, because the neighborhood has no sidewalks.

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As part of the conditional use request, the school agreed to ban clients from parking on McKee Avenue. Sanford also announced during Tuesday’s meeting that he had found alternate locations in the city, including at the Oxford Community Arts Center, to host the school’s violin and voice lessons.

“Parents will cooperate in any way necessary to avoid taking this opportunity away from their children,” Sanford said.

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Several council members, however, worried that trying to tell the difference between the school’s clients and residents of the neighborhood parking on the street would make the conditions too difficult to enforce.

Anita Jones was one of 22 neighbors who signed a petition opposing the Oxford Music Academy. But she also stressed that she was in favor of having the business continue to operate in the city and had previously helped Sanford look for alternate locations in Oxford.

“I see this as an opportunity for re-direction to a better place. It would be nice to see the entire Oxford community band together and help Jon find affordable commercial space,” Jones said after the council meeting.

While the request to continue operating in Sanford’s home has been denied, the lessons moved to other locations in Oxford may continue in the short-term.

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