College files motion for rehearing on SAE's student residence classification

by Zachary Benjamin | 5/23/16 5:45pm

UPDATED: May 23, 2016 11:11 p.m.

The College filed a motion on May 16 with the Hanover Zoning Board of Adjustment for a rehearing of the board’s decision to allow Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity to remain classified as a student residence under Hanover zoning laws.

The zoning board ruled on April 18 that SAE, which was derecognized by the College in the winter, was eligible to be considered a student residence as the fraternity demonstrated that it should be “grandfathered in” under previous zoning laws. This decision only related to the house’s legal status with the town, not to whether the College will permit students to live there. Last June, then-Interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer announced that students at the College may not live in an unrecognized Greek, undergraduate or senior society facility. Under current town law, student residences are required to operate “in conjunction with another institutional use.” However, the zoning board ruled that SAE was exempted from this law because the house was a residence before the law came into effect, during which time the College did not exercise “any appreciable health or safety supervision over the residential lives of students living at SAE.” The zoning board came to this decision after various former SAE members gave testimony to this effect. At the time, Dartmouth did not present any counter-evidence to these claims, and the zoning board ruled in favor of SAE.

Now, however, the College has presented the zoning board with evidence it says demonstrates that the College did provide health and safety supervision over SAE before the new law was enacted, claiming that the zoning board’s earlier decision “was not based on an accurate factual record.” The College’s motion cited a 1902 decision to limit fraternity houses to 14 residents as evidence that it has provided supervision since Dartmouth’s chapter of SAE was established in 1908. The College also cited a 1925 decision by the Board of Trustees restricting the types of construction for new fraternity houses, which predates the SAE house’s construction from 1928 to 1931.

The College also pointed to several regulations relating to fire safety. The motion included evidence that in 1949, SAE was inspected to ensure that the house complied with fire safety regulations in order to remain a student residence and house guests for parties. The College also submitted records of further fire, electrical and furnace inspections of fraternity houses, including SAE, dating back as early as 1963. In addition, the College referenced a 1964 ruling that fraternity houses had to install fire alarms to remain student residences.

Outside of these housing and inspection records, the College pointed to the creation of a “Fraternity Governing Board” in 1971 as evidence that it was exercising supervision over the fraternity system. The governing board, which included several Dartmouth faculty and staff, was designed to help with “long-range planning and guidance to promote the general welfare of the fraternities at Dartmouth.” The College also submitted records showing that the governing board proposed having regular fraternity inspections using College resources, which the motion says is further evidence that the governing board was operating “in conjunction” with the College. The motion also pointed to the hiring of a “fraternity business manager” in 1972.

In addition, the College claims that its supervision of SAE continued after the new zoning law’s adoption. The College pointed to the creation of a constitution for the fraternity system, which imposed several health and safety regulations, that SAE agreed to follow.

Finally, the motion referenced a May 9 decision by the Grafton County Superior Court denying Alpha Delta fraternity’s appeal of a zoning board decision. That decision denied AD permission to continue using its house as a student residence. The case was argued along similar lines as SAE’s, but in AD’s case, the zoning board ruled that AD did not present evidence that they had existed outside of College supervision before the new zoning law was enacted, a decision the superior court agreed with. The College argued in its motion for rehearing that the zoning board should take this new superior court decision into account.

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence declined to comment on the decision to request a rehearing.

Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said she thinks it is likely that the zoning board will agree to grant the College’s request to review the case, given that their previous decision emphasized that the College could potentially introduce new evidence for consideration.

The zoning board will decide whether or not to grant the College’s request for a rehearing during a session open to the public on June 2, during which time the College, SAE or other interested parties will be able to give testimony and make comments. Griffin said that the board will then likely schedule a deliberative session in the next week or two where they will probably give a decision. This session will be open to the public but will not allow for additional comments.

Normally, such a request to the zoning board for reconsideration may only be made once, Griffin said. If the zoning board chooses to rehear the case, the losing party may make an appeal to the Grafton County Superior Court, as AD did in its case.