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Cobbham and Hancock/Reese residents beat back a University of Georgia fraternity’s efforts to build a house in their neighborhood last week—for now.

Sigma Chi sought to build an 18,000 square-foot house on a vacant lot at 340 North Milledge Ave., the first ever Greek house on Milledge north of Broad Street. It was met with fierce resistance from nearby residents whose argument could be boiled down to four words: It’s just too big. The Athens-Clarke Historic Preservation Commission to reject the proposal by a 5-1 vote.

“I hate to use the word ‘comical,’ but it feels comically too big for me,” HPC member Drew Dekle said.

But the fight may not be over. Sigma Chi can appeal to the Athens-Clarke Commission, submit a new application to the HPC or seek a special use permit (which it needs in addition to HPC approval) before coming back for permission to build in the historic district.

“We need to circle the wagons and figure out what we’re going to do,” Sigma Chi’s attorney, Jim Warnes, said.

The debate focused on whether Sigma Chi’s plans fit in with the surrounding neighborhood. St. Mary’s Hospital, a four-story building, stood on the property from 1918 to 1969, and the Lucy Cobb building across the street is about the same size as the proposed Sigma Chi house, so there’s a precedent for large structures on North Milledge Avenue, Warnes said.

“I agree that if it was plopped down in the middle of the neighborhood, it would not be an appropriate size,” he said. But “the footprint, the massing and the scale of this building is appropriate and consistent with the historic use of the lot.”

St. Mary’s was only 80-feet wide, though, compared to 130 feet for the Sigma Chi house, and the hospital was set back much farther from the road, neighborhood resident Margie Spalding said. The 38-foot-tall Sigma Chi house’s footprint would be 50 percent larger than the hospital’s. Likewise, the Lucy Cobb building is 40 feet farther from the street and half as wide as Sigma Chi, said Amy Kissane, executive director of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation. “That makes a huge difference,” she said.

Wearing yellow “frat free” stickers, residents said they fear the house will tower over others nearby. “The proposed structure is just way too big for this location,” neighborhood association board member Clint McCrory said. And there’s nothing Sigma Chi could do to make the plans acceptable, he added.

The Historic Cobbham Foundation’s lawyer, Robert Zoeckler, also pointed out several other problems with the plans. The building should be shifted back, but it can’t be because of the lot’s shape, he said. And the plans show only 36 parking spaces, when 158 are required, he said.

“I don’t think they have the parking, and I think that’s a huge problem,” he said.

Parking was an issue several opponents raised, along with loud parties and trash. Hope Iglehart lives on Pope Street and unsuccessfully fought Kappa Alpha’s house on Hancock Avenue. “It’s nothing you can get over at the end of the day,” she said. “It takes away from the quality of life.”

Boulevard resident Melissa Link was even more blunt: “It’s the most ridiculously ostentatious thing I could possibly imagine,” she said. “This property could be developed to benefit the entire community, not just a bunch of over-privileged college boys who will only be here four or five years.”

McCrory said he expects Sigma Chi to come back with another proposal soon because UGA is kicking it out of its Lumpkin Street house in June 2014. The fraternity needs both HPC permission to build in a historic district and a special use permit from the Athens-Clarke Commission, since under a law passed after the KA debacle in 2006, Greek houses are illegal in most parts of the city.

While residents focused on the house’s design before the HPC, that’s not their primary concern, McCrory said. “We said up front that the design of the building… is not crucial,” he said. “It’s not the deciding factor.”

Even if Sigma Chi wins HPC approval, McCrory doesn’t think they’ll get a special use permit once commissioners look at traffic counts, parking variances and other zoning issues. “It’s much more complex, and it’s driven by ordinance, not just [historic preservation] guidelines,” he said.