Fraternities seek looser housing rules

Students hope to change a city ordinance that restricts the locations of greek houses.

Raj Chaduvula

Some city regulations make it difficult for University of Minnesota greek chapters to make major changes to their houses.
A new Minnesota Student Association task force hopes to change that by addressing problems with fraternity and sorority zoning and housing standards.
One ordinance the group wants to alter prevents fraternities and sororities from setting up shop in houses that weren’t originally built as greek houses, said Nick Wilson, head of the task force.
Another ordinance prevents more than 32 residents in fraternity and sorority houses and restricts the houses’ locations to within half a mile of a university campus.
“We are looking to broaden that definition,” he said.
City officials and fraternities and sororities have discussed the ordinances for many years, said Matt Levine, director of Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life.
City rules regarding zoning for fraternities and sororities don’t change often, he said, adding that the last change came in 2003 with the creation of the greek house historic district along University Avenue Southeast.
The zoning rules the task force is looking at have been in place since the early ’90s, said Doug Carlson, a board member of the Minnesota Greek Alumni Council.
The rules have not been looked at since, he said, and the University doesn’t have any policies resembling the zoning rules.
He said changing the ordinances to make them more lenient would benefit greek chapters.
The regulations on how many students can be in the house and where houses can be limits expansion of greek chapters, Levine said.
“We want fraternities and sororities to have access to new areas and places,” Wilson said. 
The ordinance also requires renovation to greek chapter houses to be consistent with “the scale and character” of the neighborhood.
“Any remodeling or expansion project would require securing waivers, a costly and time-consuming project,” said Fred Friswold, MGAC board chair.
Levine said there are restrictions when a greek chapter wants to expand its house’s square footage. He said the ordinances limit student housing options.
“This isn’t just a greek housing issue. … It’s a student housing issue,” said Levine.
The MSA task force is made up of 16 representatives from fraternities and sororities, as well as the general student body, Wilson said.
Wilson said he wants to talk with City Council members to change the ordinances in the spring semester.
“We are focusing on primarily using MSA’s resources to bring greek community issues to the forefront,” Wilson said.