Zoning board rehears SAE case

by Erin Lee | 6/23/16 7:00pm

The Hanover Zoning Board of Adjustment held a public rehearing yesterday regarding Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity’s status as a student residence under Hanover zoning laws. At the rehearing, attorney Carolyn Cole and SAE trustee Jeremy Katz ’95 attempted to refute new evidence presented by the College before the zoning board and an audience of about 15 people. The zoning board will provide a final ruling next week.

The zoning board ruled on April 18, 2016 that SAE, which was derecognized by the College this past winter, could maintain its status as a student residence because it is considered “grandfathered” under prior zoning ordinances.

Following that decision, the College filed a motion with the zoning board on May 16 requesting a rehearing, which was approved by the zoning board on June 2.

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence said that the College requested a rehearing to ensure the zoning board had the “full evidentiary record” when making its decision.

Under current zoning laws, student residences are required to operate “in conjunction with another institutional use.” In its original decision, the zoning board determined SAE was exempted from this law because the house, built in 1928, existed before the ordinance’s institution and was not under College supervision. The College presented new evidence in the form of prior board of trustee decisions that it says shows it did provide supervision over SAE.

One main argument presented at the rehearing distinguished between the zoning designations of “fraternity” and “student residence.” Katz noted that historically, many of the house’s residents were not students. He added that the building is used for gatherings and meetings, in addition to housing students, and thus is more than simply a student residence.

“The house is the nexus of congregation for all of these members,” he explained. “The majority of people who use the property are not residents of the property.”

Cole said that when the zoning laws were amended in 1976, the classification of “fraternity” was removed from the ordinance, requiring Greek houses to apply for a special exception from the zoning board to receive a “student residence” designation. She went on to cite multiple cases where fraternities applied for the designation with varying success. In 2003, then-derecognized Zeta Psi fraternity’s request to become a student residence was denied over aesthetic objections. In 2005, Phi Delta Alpha fraternity became a student residence when they asked for approval to renovate their house, while Kappa Kappa Kappa fraternity was allowed to renovate their house in 2014 under the “grandfather clause” but did gain student residence status.

SAE has never applied to receive student residence status under the town’s zoning laws.

Cole noted that when Gamma Delta Chi fraternity was derecognized in 2011, zoning board administrator Judith Brotman advised that the derecognition would not affect the legal use of the property, as the fraternity was the landowner. The SAE trust owns the fraternity’s house.

The zoning board’s decision will pertain to the house’s legal status in the town but does not determine whether the College will allow students to live in the building. Last June, then-Interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer announced that students may not live in an unrecognized Greek, undergraduate or senior society facility.

During the rehearing, SAE also submitted a motion to vacate the results of the rehearing entirely, which the board voted to delay deliberating on.