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December 9, 2013

Greek home restriction moves to Council

MILLEDGEVILLE — Pending the decisive vote at the upcoming Milledgeville City Council meeting, college students will likely face restricted downtown group residence options.

An ordinance amendment to the city’s Land Development Code permitting group residence as a special use in certain blocks of the single-family residential (SFR1) Historic District passed by a 4-1 vote in Monday’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.

Herman Driskell Sr., District 1, Richard Brookins, District 2, Fielding Whipple, District 4, and Gus Pursley III, District 6, all voted for the amendment, while Robert Taylor, District 5, was the only vote against.

P&Z commission member Victor Hobbs, District 3, was absent Monday.

The present ordinance says any applicant can apply for a group residence special use anywhere inside the SFR1 Historic District downtown.

Under this ordinance amendment, people face restrictions where a special use would be considered in the Historic District.

If passed by Council, group residence special use permits within the Historic District overlay would be designated in described blocks and partial blocks.

The four complete and contiguous blocks bounded by North Jackson, West Hancock, West Montgomery and North Clarke streets would be available for a Greek house if the owner passed all the additional zoning requirements and building inspections.

In addition to the four complete blocks, specific parcels fronting and contiguous to the northern right-of-way of West Montgomery between North Columbia and North Liberty streets and those parcels fronting and contiguous to the southern right-of-way of West Hancock between South Jackson and South Columbia streets would be kosher for group residence special use requests under the ordinance amendment.

Several Greek houses already exist in the described area. Special use requests still go through P&Z and the Mayor and Council before approved.

Those seeking a group home outside of the defined area must request a rezone from the city.

Col. John Alton (Ret.), a South Liberty Street resident, spoke in favor of the ordinance as presented in Monday’s public hearing prior to the vote.

“It’s a good idea,” Alton said. “This is a good attempt by the city to identify that area where the college community can apply for and be relatively certain that they can get Greek use. On the other hand, it protects at least part of the single family housing within the Historic District.”

Alton said preserving the Liberty Street area is extremely important for the future of Milledgeville tourism.

“It’s the last area that will remain single family for all intensive purposes,” he said Monday. “In the long run, it does protect those areas where the historic homes are and many of the single families still remain from turning into completely rental property or fraternity or sorority row.”

Fellow South Liberty Street resident Ross Sheppard stood up against the group residence restriction.

Sheppard said having a zone within a zone is confusing.

“The process is exactly the same. You just won’t be able to apply for it in the lower block where my home is,” Sheppard said. “I don’t understand why this board would want to limit its ability to influence Planning & Zoning. Why take away this mechanism, which you all have to approve anyway? I don’t see how this helps anything at all.”

Sheppard said students currently occupy seven of 12 Liberty Street homes and “there is no market for single family homes.”

“What is there to preserve other than an idea of a single family neighborhood lifestyle, which I think is far gone,” Sheppard said. “It seems arbitrary to say that this area is OK, and this area isn’t OK when they are similar in demographics and property attributes. It limits me as a property owner with potential uses of my property down the line.”

Another Liberty Street resident, Sandy Graciaa, said the amendment does make a lot of difference to preserve the neighborhood. She said the student occupants bring noise and disruption any day of the week.

“We are a residential area. Ten years ago, we didn’t have this problem,” Graciaa said. “It’s our block and our neighborhood. We are your face for Milledgeville, and we ask you to help us to save it.”

Alton said some rental properties in the northern blocks named in the proposed ordinance have deteriorated over the years.

“We don’t want that to happen to our street,” Alton said.

Sheppard, speaking on behalf of the college population said, “this is our neighborhood also.”

He said allowing a larger student residence brings more rent money to improve the historic structures.

“I want to make sure you know how much we care about (the neighborhood) also,” Sheppard said. “Passing this will only limit you all’s ability to sanction these types of housing, making sure they exist in the correct way.”

Zoning Administrator Mervin Graham expects the ordinance amendment on the City Council agenda Tuesday.

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