City DopeNews

UPDATE: The Red & Black’s Building Could Be Turned Into a Fraternity House

The Red & Black building. Credit: Blake Aued

The Athens-Clarke County Planning Commission voted 4-3 May 4 to recommend denying an application for the UGA chapter of Phi Kappa Tau to buy and convert The Red & Black’s building on Baxter Street into a residence for its members.

The student newspaper’s building is perched at the top of Baxter Hill. It backs up to the Henderson Avenue Historic District, made up of 16 homes dating from the late 1800s, with Pope Street on the east side and Milledge Avenue to the west.

Despite reassurances from Phi Kappa Tau alum Bill Crane, current fraternity members and an ACC police officer that the fraternity would be respectful of its neighbors, homeowners spoke against the zoning change, saying their street is already under siege from existing fraternities and sororities on Milledge Avenue. They believe adding another fraternity to the mix would be “a nail in the coffin” that would make living there even more difficult, if not impossible.

“It is not fraternities that make Athens an attractive place to live,” said George Daly, a lawyer whose backyard lies yards from the building.

Rhonda Packer told the planning commission that her husband, Ken, depends on voice commands to Alexa for a semblance of a normal life since a stroke disabled him nine years ago. She worried that noise from the fraternity would prevent the device from hearing her husband, whose voice is compromised.

Retired UGA professor Gary Bertsch said there are codes to protect neighborhoods the city doesn’t enforce, adding, “The city is failing us, time and again.” 

In addition to the noise of parties and games, Peggy Galis said, residents cope daily with the rattle of delivery trucks, the sounds of air brakes and the banging of delivery doors and ramps. Most everyone on the street has positioned bedrooms as far as possible from the noise of the fraternities.

Planning commissioner Sarah Gehring worried that if Phi Kappa Tau’s request were denied, the fraternity would locate near less affluent renters who wouldn’t be able to organize or articulate their concerns. Another option could be River Road on East Campus, where a number of fraternities built new houses when UGA kicked them off Lumpkin Street 15 years ago. 

Along with Joey Tucker and Kristen Morales, Gehring voted to recommend the request be granted, but Lucy Rowland, Katie Goodrum, Alice Kinman and Matthew Hall did not. The request now goes to the mayor and commission, who have the final say.

Publisher Charlotte Norsworthy Varnum provided the following statement to Flagpole:

Recently, our nonprofit organization was given an opportunity to help secure greater long-term financial security. Our building at 540 Baxter Street was built with alumni support in the mid-1990s, and it has served us well. Though our building was not listed for sale, a buyer has made a substantial offer to purchase the property. We have accepted the offer, but there are a few more steps to go through before the sale would be approved.
The next step is the Athens-Clarke County Planning Commission recommendation. The buyer’s request to rezone the building is on the agenda for the commission’s Thursday meeting. Should the pending sale close, we would then relocate and lease or purchase a smaller footprint in close proximity to campus and downtown, with several locations already under consideration. Regardless of the outcome, The Red & Black is paving the way for growth and innovation within our organization, and we are excited for the future.