Panel backs labeling frat houses as historic sites

The Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend the city designate many University fraternity and sorority houses historic properties.

If Minneapolis City Council members agree that with the commission’s recommendation, the designations could have a significant impact on greek life at the University.

About 30 University fraternity members attended the meeting, but were not allowed to speak.

The 11-member board is appointed by the City Council and mayor to make recommendations on historical preservation issues.

Chairwoman Linda Messenger said the meeting was not a public hearing. Members already heard testimony Aug. 19, she said.

“The board wanted more time to review the facts. It’s a tough decision to make,” board member Kelley Lindquist said.

Interfraternity Council President John Kokkinen, who was not at the meeting, said he disapproves of the decision.

“We have been opposed from the beginning and don’t think it is in the best interests to the community as a whole,” he said. “We have maintained the historical significance of many houses for over 80 years. We don’t need further burdens as well.”

Tracy Nordstrom, who was appointed to the commission last year by Mayor R.T. Rybak, said the historic preservation rules run book-lengths long, but several of the houses in question clearly meet the standards.

At the request of the city and the University, the commission conducted a study last year on the historical significance of fraternity houses along University Avenue Southeast.

It found that, nationally, thousands of buildings – including greek houses – have been designated historic under criteria similar to the Heritage Preservation Commission’s.

The decision is now in the City Council’s hands. If it approves the motion, the houses included will officially become the University Greek Letter Chapter House Historic District.

Fraternity members believe the recommendation is unnecessary. They said the change will raise costs of living, make renovation more expensive and remove property control from the residents.

If the houses are designated historic, owners would need to clear any alterations to their exteriors with the preservation commission.

While fraternities still have a chance to convince council members, many fraternity members were discouraged by the commission’s decision.

“Well, I am disappointed. The way things are set up, we are not in a position to respond,” said Lynn Swon, chairwoman for the Coalition for Non-Profit Student Housing, an organization aiding the greek groups.

“We are unpleased with the commission’s decision and look forward to the hearing with the City Council to express our views,” Delta Chi fraternity member Dan Murphy said.

Panhellenic Council President Jen Duerre said four University sorority houses would be affected by the historic designation, but the entire greek community is getting involved.

She said it would place a heavy financial burden on the sorority houses, and they are willing to keep fighting against the designation.

“It’s a big deal,” Duerre said. “We’re going to keep going.”

– Dan Haugen contributed to this report.