County Blocks UGA Sorority's Addition to 1905 House

Posted on: November 15th, 2007 by Preservation magazine

A University of Georgia sorority wants to build an addition on the front of its 1905 neoclassical house, but the county commission says no.

Parking requirements along Milledge Avenue in Athens are preventing Gamma Phi Beta from building a chapter room on their house, a property contributing to a National Register-listed historic district. Although the city's planning department approved the plans, the Athens-Clarke County Commission voted it down 8-2 on Oct. 2 and established a six-month moratorium on all demolitions and relocations on Milledge Avenue.

Forty properties along Milledge contribute to the National Register District, established in the mid-1980s. Many of the houses belong to fraternities and sororities of UGA. Charles Phinizy built the Gamma Phi Beta house in 1905 in the neoclassical style, and in 1983 Gamma Phi Beta moved in to the 4,000-square-foot building.

"It has always been our goal to preserve as much as we can and at the same time recognize our need to grow," says Elizabeth Hutcheson, alumni of Gamma Phi Beta and property manager of its house-corporation board.

The proposed addition would double the size of the house and more than double the necessary parking space. But an addition to the back of the house would take away designated spaces that city ordinances require. With an addition on the front, the property will no longer contribute to the National Register-listed district and will no longer be eligible for tax credits.

Properties on Milledge Avenue have been threatened since the 1960s, when the chapters stepped in.

"We are happy to have fraternities and sororities on Milledge, because they've kept up the properties when no one else will," says Amy Kissane, executive director of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, "The buildings, if not owned by them, would most likely be turned into apartment buildings. An entity residing in the buildings is better for the community, and the surrounding communities want them to stay."

- Leah Webster

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Preservation Magazine