Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Frat boy, frat boy, whatcha gonna do?

Another thing we’ve been meaning to address in the last couple of days is last week’s approved moratorium on new fraternity and sorority houses.  As y’all know, the matter was introduced under the wire the day before last week’s meeting of the Mayor and Commission by District Five’s own David Lynn.  Some of Lynn’s constituents are understandably upset by the purchase of property on Meigs Street, and would like to have the local government and the stakeholders in the community weigh in before this thing is a done deal.

You may not know (we didn’t) that there’s a decent amount of oversight that goes into things like this before they hit the agenda.  Mayor Davison was on Tim Bryant’s show Monday and pointed out that she, and she alone makes the call about what gets on the agenda and what doesn’t.  At the meeting, she made it clear that she made the tough call.  

On Tim Bryant’s show (WGAU 1340 AM, if you’re keeping score at home), Davison expounded a little on the policy of setting the agenda.  In the case of the moratorium, Lynn called Davison early on Monday about the possibility of introducing the moratorium.  The Mayor indicated that she would consider it, but that before she could add it to the agenda, Lynn had to make sure the other Commissioners were at least on board with introducing the item under the wire.  He did, most were, and Heidi put it on the agenda.  So it isn’t as if David Lynn sprung this unannounced on everyone.

Now on to the moratorium itself.  We think it’s a good idea, actually.  The fact is that, in residential areas, fraternity houses are not good land use.  They can create major noise problems, major public safety problems, and major parking and congestion problems.  As Heidi pointed out yesterday on Bryant’s show, try getting an emergency vehicle down Bloomfield on a game day.  While we may decide that those problems are negligible, they do deserve some serious examination from all of the stakeholders involved before any problems arise.

The real problem though isn’t the local government, the residents of Cobbham, David Lynn, Heidi Davison, or even the upstanding young gentlemen of I Felta Thi.  The problem is sitting in his office on North Campus right now, figuring out new ways to screw undergraduates.  

Before you get us wrong, let us be very clear.  There’s nothing that UGA can do to prevent irresponsible behavior.  As Hillary points out, “If the possibility of dying didn't stop Lewis Fish from snorting whatever he could, I sincerely doubt the chance of getting booted out of school would've done much more.”  

But the fact of the matter is that Mike Adams, as an administrator, is a little – shall we say – high-handed.  There’s a fundamental lack of effective communication between the University and the local government, to the detriment of both the university and the community.  For instance, if Adams had sought a discussion with Heidi and the Commission before making the executive decision to foist the Greeks on the community at large, some of the ill will on both sides might have been avoided.  

Athens wouldn’t be Athens without UGA, but it’s important to remember that UGA wouldn’t be UGA without Athens.  Sure, UGA would still exist, it would still play host to some 30,000 undergraduates that the administration can easily milk when it needs a quick $60,000 to redecorate the President’s office.  But it wouldn’t be the same, and we all know that.  The point is, that as elected officials, the ACC Government has to look out for the neighborhoods and for UGA, whereas Mike Adams got about the same number of votes in the last mayoral election as Larry McKinney.  Should UGA be subordinate to the ACC Government?  No, not at all.  But just as Athens as a whole is part of the UGA community, UGA’s administration needs to step up and be a partner in the Athens community as well.

Back to the moratorium briefly.  Waiting and soliciting community input is a good thing in this case.  Having a frat house in your backyard is a big deal, and as much as the Greeks and their supporters like to complain about the last-minute nature of the moratorium, it isn’t as though UGA bothered to check with the community before cutting the cord, and it definitely isn’t as though the fraternity bothered to work with the community before buying the land.  


hillary said...

"Having a frat house in your backyard is a big deal"

We've been talking about this rather a lot in the office lately, and mostly, it's come down to: if you don't like urban living, move the hell out to the suburbs. Yes, these are residential neighborhoods the frat kids are buying property in, but they're residential neighborhoods in town. There are already houses near fraternities, too. They're allowed to buy the property. Zoning says so. If they violate the ordinances and generally act like jackasses, then you can call the ordinance police up and get 'em busted. I'm not saying I want to live next to one, but them's the breaks.

Ned said...

I think many people are unaware of the fact they live in a college town. It makes more sense to have students living in town and close to school than in places like Abbey West and Polo Club and River Walk and all of the other student housing.

I would assume the biggest problem is that this town has been growing without much thought about where would be the best place for students to live without disturbing the community much. If you put them on the outskirts of town then you just have to build giant parking lots around campus to give them a place to park.

Personally I believe building up downtown will fix a lot of the problems current student housing has created. Once downtown Athens turns into a place where people can live without a car(it is almost there, but there needs to be a grocery store within walking distance of downtown and the daily grocery doesn't count), then students will probably start living there because it is much more convenient than living 10 miles out and driving to a parking lot far away from class.

I think this whole issue is a good example of why I find the current M&C retarded - they will make it so you can't do something without providing an example of how they want things to be done. Is there a Frat house that they think should serve as a model to the others? Is there a bar that reached a good compromise that made smokers and non smokers happy that they could have asked the other bars to follow? Did they show us a type of development that would have suited the east side more than LDPS back when all that drama was taking place?

We have a lot of different types of people living in Athens and I would prefer it if the M&C adopted a "can't we all just get along" way of thinking instead of a trying to put each subgroup of our community into a place where they are kept away from the people who still think of Athens as a small country town.

Dawg Corleone said...

Bryant made the somewhat obvious point that the frat houses are going (or are proposed to go) into neighborhoods that are already zoned multi-family, not single-family. Tom Chasteen made the same point in voting against the moratorium.

The mayor countered by saying that people don't always check the zoning.


Whose fault is that?

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

I'm gonna have to disagree in part and agree in part with my co-editor. In terms of the moratorium itself, I'm closer to Hillary's position; why not analyze the situation under standard zoning rules? Why single out frat houses? Because some tightwads don't like them? I mean don't get me wrong, I don't care for frat guys a lot of the time either, but if they comply with zoning and have the money, I think they should be able to buy whatever they want. If you don't like it, (1) get those responsible to enforce any ordinances being broken and/or (2) move. Sorry, life sucks sometimes. I think we set a dangerous precedent when we start saying who can and can't buy property (within the zoning rules).

But in terms of the larger point about how UGA and the M&C need to work together on these type of issues, I completely agree. There has been for a while and there continues to be a disconnect in that area.

Publius said...

Whoa, whoa, whoa, the both of youse. I didn't say don't let them build. In fact, I said, when highlighting some of the concerns from the neighborhoods:

"While we may decide that those problems are negligible, they do deserve some serious examination from all of the stakeholders involved before any problems arise."

I'm talking about a temporary moratorium here, not an immediate out-and-out ban on fraternities and sororities buying land and building on it. We need to take some time, let everyone who has something to say on the issue say their piece and then determine whether we need to look at any kind of further action.

So, I'll open myself up here for the Hilla-ire, but what's so wrong with giving the community involved some time to weigh in? This is going to be yet another controversial zoning issue in ACC, and while I hate to hold up LPDS as the standard by which all controversial zoning issues should be handled (it isn't, in so many ways), you can't argue that the community didn't get their say, and you can't argue that the development as a whole wasn't better and more community-friendly as a result.

Of course, the extra time in the LPDS imbroglio was at the behest of the developers, who consistently demonstrated a committment to involve the community. That's not the case here, despite what representatives of the fraternities said at last week's Commission meeting.

But the fact remains, you've got neighborhoods that have legitimate concerns that they want to air before the wheels start turning. What's wrong with waiting a month?

In fact, the people who want to develop the land have zoning law on their side. But when you've got the community around the proposed development pissed off, you owe it to your future neighbors to let them voice their concerns, and - dare I say - actually respond to them.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

The extra time with LPDS also was a result of the desired project requiring a rezone, which is not the case for the frat properties. It just seems to me the time to address the issue would have been when those areas were originally zoned. I'm all for community input, but if I decide to buy a house in Cedar Creek tomorrow, do they get to provide "input" on whether I should be able to do so? I realize there's some significant practical differences between me living next door and a frat house next door, but that's what the zoning laws are for in the first place, is all I'm saying. I don't see why even a temporary moratorium is appropriate.

Publius said...

How do I begin to address the differences between you buying a house in Cedar Creek and a fraternity buying property to build on? I won't.

How long ago was the zoning law put into place?

Bear in mind that the process of building LPDS would have started or stopped for good in the second week of October, 2005, if it had just been about a rezone.

Why is it appropriate? Because we have a representative government and a significant portion of the community involved is raising a red flag.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

What are you saying, I don't know how to party?!?

Seriously, I hear what you're saying. However, the whole thing smacks of the NIMBY, ant-student stuff from the usual suspects to me. If I'm wrong, so be it.

But I guess a moratorium won't kill anybody.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

And of course that was supposed to be "anti-student" stuff....Jesus I can't type sometimes...

Jmac said...

The easiest thing that could have been done was way back when, the university should have mandated all fraternities and soriorities be on campus (similar to the situation at Chapel Hill). This would have required growth built around and with the Greek system, not without it.

In light of that, I'm with the folks here who say it's an issue for zoning, and not necessarily any special rule which targets Greeks.

monticello_pres said...

Regardless of how dim Mike Adams' bulb shines, or how many (or few) special use hearings that R-N zoning has, I find it humorously ironic the way things went down last Tuesday.

David Lynn provides a pre-planned substitute motion to approve LPDS rezoning on CSD - changing the use of this property forever. This goes against the motion by D-8 McCarter and 2nd by D-10 Dodson. It also goes against nearly 1,000 signatures on an east side A-CC petition. It passes 8-2.

In the same meeting, and with only 24 hours forewarning, the same Commissioner David Lynn rushes a moratorium onto the agenda to protect a few vocal opponents (far fewer than 1000) from a perfectly legal and already agreed upon R-N zoning use.

Boy, I wish we had those Prince Ave parking deck discussions back.

Gotta love politics.

Adrian said...

David Lynn would have us think that a fraternity wants to take over grandma's old house on the cul-de-sac.

The Meigs Street property is a former Salvation Army building, right? OK, THAT is a single-family neighborhood? Under what sort of delusion? Meigs Street is connected to major corridors and at the edge of downtown. IT IS NOT A SINGLE FAMILY ENVIRONMENT. It is a central urban neighborhood. I agree with Hillary. Sure, we can come up with regulations, but David Lynn has mischaracterized the situation beyond all accuracy.

gap said...

One thing that I got from the meeting last night is that greek houses can't be pigeonholed into specific zoning categories like an apartment complex would. While I'm not crazy about the moratorium, I hope that specific zoning for greek houses is one area that they can resolve in 6 months.

Also, David Lynn made some comments referencing "recent headlines" in regard to fraternities. I thought this was in poor taste and only seves to bring a reactional and emotional element that is not needed in this issue. Shame

andyrusk said...

Ditto DiDDY and Hillary. These frat kids are in compliance with present zoning. You don't get to pick your neighbors.

theREAList said...

It's not the fraternity / neighborhood issue that spooks me. It is not even the fact that D. Lynn is totally under the trance of a couple of citizens. That is old news.

It is the fact that the ACC Cobb-missioners changed the rules after an entity or two invested millions in property, and did so by the rules and after discussion with ACC officials that spooks me.

Why does Lynn so often fall asleep at the wheel. Heck, I new the frats would be looking for land the minute Adams gave notice.

Is Lynn really the person for the job here anyway. If you have to pull stunts like this, should he be our leader. That goes for the mayor too.

Life is a chess game. You have to think ahead of the game.

And yes, I know my zoning because I am an adult, Heidi!

Chuck Jones said...

As I wrote in my Letter to the Editor today, fraternity members have rights. If you want them to cooperate with their neighbors, then you have to respect their rights.

If you want to live in a cathedral, you should become a priest. (Or a nun as circumstances may require). If you want to live in a college town, you need to learn tolerance.

This action is not unlike the actions which were approved by the Supreme Court in the roundly condemned decision Kelo v. City of New London. The corrupt local government is seizing the property rights of private citizens at the demand of a few of the privileged who happen to have the ear of the mayor and commission.

Charles "Chuck" Jones
Attorney at Law
Candidate, GA House of Representatives, District 115

Ned said...

Good letter this morning, Chuck. I haven't seen you post here before so welcome to our community! I think a lot of people in power are trying to push Athens away from being a college town when they would be much better off embracing Athens for what it is and focusing on making it an even better college town.