The Union Recorder

December 12, 2012

Special use for sorority house granted by city

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Milledgeville City Council upheld the Nov. 5 approved request by the Planning and Zoning Commission to grant a special use ordinance for the property located at 131 N. Columbia St. as a sorority house with eight residents.

Phillip Joiner, Steve Chambers, Richard Mullins and Denese Shinholster voted in favor of the request Tuesday, while Jeanette Walden and Dr. Collinda Lee were against the special use.

“These young ladies have shown they will be good neighbors,” Joiner said.

The District 4 councilman, along with Chambers, agreed each special use needs to be looked at case by case.

Michael Walker and his wife Mary submitted the request, so Georgia College's Phi Mu sorority could use the property to house its executive board members.

Both sides of the argument spoke during Tuesday's public hearing period at City Council.

The Walker couple took six years restoring the home to vintage antebellum condition and believes Phi Mu will preserve the home in line with numerous other university homes throughout the state.

Realtor Robert Binion said the sorority takes its homes seriously with established rules all residents must follow.

“I implore you to embrace this opportunity. We want students to stay and start businesses here,” Georgia College Phi Mu Chapter Advisor Ginny Binion said.

Phi Mu executive Darlene Reyes said the sorority would like to be granted the exception like the two other female Greek groups on campus. She cited the extraordinary community service record of the group.

Opposition during the hearing came down hardest from Historic Preservation Committee member John Alton and downtown homeowner Ray Olivier.

Alton had no contention with the Walker's home restoration or the merits of the sorority.

“The questions that are important are what are we doing with this town. There are students living on the 100 block of North Columbia Street,” Alton said. “There has to be a point where we can allow them in certain areas. We have to preserve single-family neighborhoods.”

Alton added that Milledgeville's streets are losing their character.

“If we aren't careful, we will lose every one of the streets,” Alton said.

Olivier warned the city about making a watershed decision opening the door to those targeting homes as rental opportunities. He said the poor behavior of college students has scared some long-time residents away.

Alton said potential homebuyers don't want to live next to a Greek house.

A 37-year Montgomery Street resident said students are eroding the downtown area.

The city will become known as a side note of the college campus, according to Olivier. He cited an anti-campus sentiments welling among many citizens.

Several opposed mentioned the planned Greek row out on Georgia College's West Campus that never came to fruition. They believed the university should shoulder the responsibility of housing the student groups.

During rebuttal time, one man in favor said Milledgeville wouldn't be on the map without the college's economic influence.

“We aren't responsible for the actions of all college students. Don't throw us out with the bath water. We can't wait forever. We have followed all of the rules,” Binion said.

Before the vote, Shinholster and Lee agreed no decision would be pleasing to everyone. 

“I'd like to make the right decision in this,” Lee said. “Our responsibility is to look out for the city and take care of our citizens.”

In other news:

• Milledgeville Mainstreet/Downtown Development Authority Director Carlee Schulte informed Council of Milledgeville's selection as part of the Heart and Soul Bus Tour next April. The city is one of just nine selected statewide. Tour participants go on a guided walking tour of three downtown projects.

• The City Council authorized a contract to provide design services associated with the $1 million renovation and rehabilitation of the city owned Elks Lodge Building at 109 E. Hancock St. The building will become a one-stop shop for downtown economic development outfits, according to City Manager Barry Jarrett. 

• Council agreed to try several fieldstones as markers to identify some of the 1,200 identified land disturbances or burial sites inside Memory Hill Cemetery. Friends of Baldwin County Cemeteries will purchase the stones.

• The City completed the .87-acre dog park addition to Layton Field, which is now open to the public. The ball field will be closed to complete recreational renovations.

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