No Welcome Mat For Sorority House

Markeshia Ricks Photo Neighbors in the Dwight Historic District said they don’t want another raucous sorority in their neighborhood. That’s fine by the members of a sorority that is looking to move in: They don’t plan to be raucous.

The Iota House Corporation of Alpha Phi International, owns a house at 33 Edgewood Ave. It plans to convert it from a two-family with 11 rooms to an eight-room sorority house for its members. It is asking the Board of Zoning appeals to permit not only a special exception to allow the conversion, but also zero parking spaces where three are required. The house is in an RH-2 or residential high-density zone.

“The proposed sorority house is an existing legal, two-family structure,” architect Richard Wies told members of the Board of Zoning Appeals at its April monthly meeting last Tuesday. “We are noting that there have been some concerns about parking in the neighborhood, if not throughout the city.”

Wies said the house hasn’t been kept in good condition and the owners are planning a renovation that is consistent with its historic nature.

Parking was just one of the concerns neighbors and the Chapel West Special Services District brought up when it was learned that a proposed sorority house is coming to the neighborhood. They’re asking that the BZA either to deny the application or impose conditions so that it won’t drag down their property values.

“The Chapel West District currently contains at least 8 eight similar ‘operations,’” Chapel West District Business Manager Brian McGrath wrote in a letter to the BZA. “Some are fraternity and sorority houses with signs on the door, some are without signs on the door and some are Yale athletic teams exclusively renting residential properties in order to live together.

“The effect on the neighborhood is always the same and perpetual. A tremendous burden is laid upon the surrounding property owners by these uses/students. Regular tenants, including our many students, do not have large group parties which spill out of doors, make a racket late at night, and leave trash all over the front yards and streets. Regular tenants take out their trash barrels once a week rather than have them overflow all over the yard. Regular tenants bring in their barrels and do not leave them all week on the public sidewalk. Regular tenants do not have regular group parties that bring up to 20 more visitors than actually living in the ‘house.’ Regular tenants do not leave a carpet of red beer cups in their wake.

“Chapel West recognizes that this District depends on college students in large part for all of the residential rental income and retail trade that our property owners enjoy from their proximity to Yale University. We are not against students as neighbors or customers. The point is that this form of living is not conducive to peace and quiet for the property owners whom Chapel West represents.”

Landlord Arnie Lehrer voiced similar concerns in a a letter that he wrote to the BZA: “Some concerns ... Property too close to mine, noise factor. Numerous frat parties nearby with noise complaints from my tenants and others. House legal 6 bedrooms, operated illegally with more bedrooms. They call it an 8 room house used now as 9 rooms causing much undue hardship. Zone 6 parking is already over taxed.”

Wies argued that even if the owners were to continue to operate the house as a two-family home, parking would likely be a problem because tenants probably come with at least one car a piece, maybe two. He pointed out that the sorority members are Yale students and would likely walk, ride bikes or take the bus. But even if members had a car, the sorority planned to make them take advantage of private parking facilities.

Valerie Eisenhardt, a member of Alpha Phi who also manages property for the sorority, told BZA members that that house rules should address some of the concerns that McGrath outlined in his letter. She said that the sorority has house rules for its chapters all over the country, and members must sign an agreement that says they will not engage in smoking, drinking alcohol on the premises, or using illegal substances.

Eisenhardt also said that each house had quiet hours after 10 p.m. on the weekdays and overnight guests had to be approved in advance by at least three of the eight people in the house. She also reassured board members that the house will only be home to eight sorority members at a time, each of them with her own room.

Stephen Magid came the hearing in the stead of his brother-in-law, Lehrer, who owns 1214 Chapel St. who could not attend because he was observing Passover. Magid raised concerns that though there were eight rooms, there could be as many as 16 or 24 people living in the house depending on how many people were assigned to a room.

He also had questions about how the house would be held responsible for its trash, preferring a dumpster to individual trash bins. And like McGrath he told board members about his concern over noisy parties and residents who might not have cars, but who had friends who did. Magid said if board members approved the sorority house, he said he’d like to see any exceptions be specific to the sorority house, and if the sorority decided to sell the house to someone else down the line, that the new owners would have to come back to the BZA.

“We absolutely would not want a sign on the building,” he concluded. “It’s such a negative to developers, but I absolutely look forward to working with them.

“I think the neighborhood has had the experience with a variety of different apartment users, be they students, families, young renters — a wide spectrum of what can occasionally be pretty disruptive people living close together,” Wies told board members. “Based on the rules Alpha Phi has, this is a different kettle of fish and I hope you take that into consideration of the request.”

Deputy Zoning Director Tom Talbot told BZA members that they might not be able to prevent the owners from putting a sign with the sorority’s name on the house because regulations say that they can, but it can certainly make it a condition that no more than eight people live in the house. The matter has been referred to the City Plan Commission.

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posted by: Bill Saunders on April 20, 2017  1:56pm

Greek Letters on a building is negative to developers???? 
Unless those letters violate the sign ordinance, how is this even an issue?

posted by: Renewhavener on April 20, 2017  9:34pm

So what Mr. McGrath is saying is neighbors wish they lived in Westville with “Regular” people?  Hard to see how zoning laws of this sort are not a prima facie affront to this group’s first amendment right to peaceably assemble.  So, then I guess what being said here is that the covenant of quiet enjoyment bestowed upon lease holders cannot be maintained because of laxidasical enforcement efforts by our fair city?  Honestly people, you can’t hold a whole sorority responsible for the behavior of a few, lazy civil servants. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole zoning enforcement system? And if the whole enforcement system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our public institutions in general? I put it to you, Bryan!! - isn’t this an indictment of our entire American Society? Well, you can do whatever you want to Alpha Phi, but I’m not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth…the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!

posted by: Bill Saunders on April 20, 2017  10:56pm

So, Did McGrath just tip his hand about being anti-neighborhood and pro-development, even though he draws a nice salary from neighborhood business tax payers…..

I don’t have a problem with alternative campus housing.
If there is some service in Alphi Phi’s charter, what is the problem…..

C’mon Crickets, let’s here you chirp….....

posted by: robn on April 21, 2017  10:20am

RNH FTW!

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on April 21, 2017  11:08am

The owners should get the exemptions they seek contingent upon satisfactory renovation.  The owners maintain that the building isn’t in good repair, so why should they get a break?  After that, let the sorority in. 

This isn’t a first amendment issue because the members of the sorority can meet.  And the government wouldn’t be banning them because of any affiliation but because they don’t meet an objective set of criteria that is not based upon speech.  Moreover, governments can always place time and manner restrictions on speech. 

There is no way that having a sorority impairs housing values.  It simply creates a different buyer.  If anything the rents will likely drive up appraised property values, forcing up taxes, and converting any existing owner-occupants into the suburbia of Westville.  But that’s fine because they will have more rental revenue with which to pay the taxes.  Upward spirals are a win/win. 

Bill S., I don’t get your comment about McGrath.  Can you explain what you mean a bit further.

posted by: Bill Saunders on April 21, 2017  1:16pm

Atticus,

I am possibly unclear as to who was speaking about the signage.
If Mcgrath said it, I think it steps to far given his paid position as head of the Chapel West SSD.

If not, yolks on me….