Greek Night: Planning Commission Deals With Bevy of Fraternity Matters

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Dylan Lees for ELi

The Greek letters of Sigma Tau Gamma on the apartment building at 312 N. Harrison Rd. suggest it's already being used as a frat while the application for the required approval is under review. (Photo taken Dec. 9, 2021.)

The East Lansing Planning Commission addressed a number of agenda items related to fraternity (and sorority) houses at a 45-minute-long meeting on Wednesday evening, Dec. 8.

Only one vote was taken — to unanimously recommend that City Council approve a Special Use Permit (SUP) for a fraternity at 312 North Harrison Rd. and 710 Oak St. This item counted as “old business,” as it had previously been discussed by Planning Commission at its Nov. 10 meeting. If the City Council ultimately approves the concept, that plan will allow the two apartment buildings at the respective addresses to officially function as fraternities within the City.

The display of the Greek letters Sigma Tau Gamma on 312 North Harrison Rd. suggests that building, at least, is already being used in the way planned.

Dylan Lees for ELi

312 N. Harrison Rd. and 710 Oak St. in the background (Dec. 9, 2021).

At the Nov. 10 meeting, Planning Commissioner Chris Wolf had discussed the parking situation with the applicants for the SUP, Alan Ross and Rebecca Ross. Since that discussion, a letter was sent to the City by Sig Tau WPN Housing (“Sig Tau” is shorthand for Sigma Tau Gamma) on behalf of the Rosses that addressed the parking, occupancy, and a handful of other topics regarding the application. 

Signed by Director of WPN Housing Operations Kayla Haggerty, the letter addressed the parking at the location, saying that members know not to park on the grass. She wrote that for events, street parking is the first option (besides the onsite parking spaces), and that the public parking garage at the Kellogg Center is the other alternative. 

The SUP was recommended for approval with one condition on staff’s recommendation: That the applicants work with the City’s Building Division and Fire Marshal to assess a maximum capacity for the meeting spaces where fraternity chapter meetings would be held. 

Dylan Lees for ELi

The Planning Commission recommended the applicants work with the fire marshal on safety planning before it is used as a frat. (Photo taken on Dec. 9, 2021.)

This Wednesday night’s meeting also saw formal public hearings on two other fraternity SUP applications. 

First was for a house at 251 West Grand River Ave., where the Sigma Pi fraternity intends to move. If approved, that property will house up to 45 people with changes to the interior to make more bedrooms out of what is currently kitchen and living space.

According to the staff report, that property had been licensed to be a fraternity in the late 1980s, with an occupancy limit of 55 people. The property is not currently a frat, though, as it was converted to a pair of apartment units in 2007. 

Wolf asked why the conversion from a fraternity happened in 2007. One of the applicants, Tom Reder of Bergmann Architects, explained the “funny story” behind that. 

The previous fraternity held an event in 2007 that caused significant structural damage, Reder told the Commission. The property owners, Community Resource Management Company (CRMC), had the tenants removed and ran the building as an apartment and offices for a time. 

The expectation is that at its next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 12, the Planning Commission will render a decision on whether to recommend Council approve this application.

The second public hearing was for an SUP application to make a house at 532 Ann St. the home for the Kappa Sigma-Delta Psi MSU chapter. 

After brief discussion about parking — particularly the growing competition for parking in the Bailey Neighborhood — and a slightly longer discussion about making sure fire exits and egress points on the house are properly marked, the public hearing closed. The Planning Commission is also likely to render a decision on whether to recommend this application on Jan. 12.

No one from the public other than the applicants spoke at the Dec. 8 meeting with regard to these applications.

Before the Planning Commission had gotten to any of these matters, they were presented a list prepared by Planning and Zoning Administrator Peter Menser of all the fraternities and sororities with their respective chapter house street addresses. 

Some chapters don’t have houses and therefore don’t have addresses listed. Additionally, the list does not account for “annexes,” houses treated by fraternities and sororities as extra gathering places, sometimes for alcohol-serving parties for chapters whose primary houses are officially dry. 

In the staff memo attached with the list, City staff informed the Commission that they “will continue to require special use permits for new organizations either being established or moving to new locations but will not be applying the requirement retroactively.”

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