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Adjustment board approves permit for fraternity/sorority house


By Ginger Livingston
Staff Writer

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Board of Adjustment has approved a special-use permit that will allow a fraternity or sorority to occupy a former apartment building, despite objections of nearby residents.

The two-story building at 418 W. Fifth Street is being renovated by William Joseph Davis. The 7,512-squre-foot structure has eight units. While city rules say a maximum of 30 people could live in the building, he is limiting it to 24 people.

Davis said he could not say which fraternity or sorority will occupy the space because the deal isn’t finalized.

Davis also is renovating a neighboring house that is scheduled to be occupied by Sigma Nu.

Davis also owns an abandoned apartment building next to the railroad tracks, Greenville Planner Elizabeth Blount said. He presented the city with concept drawings that show a complex that includes all three properties.

“Over a long period of time this has evolved almost into a Greek village,” said Phil Dixon, the attorney representing Davis.

Zeta Tau Alpha, a sorority, is in the area. Phi Kappa Tau, a fraternity that was closed in 2018 following the arrest of several members on drug charges, is on nearby Elizabeth City.

“My long-term goal is to continue to acquire and restore nearby properties that are abandoned or labeled as nuisances,” Davis said. “We believe we can turn this into a vibrant and dynamic area adjoining the downtown-university area.”

Louis Warren, an East Carolina University professor who advises seven fraternities on campus, said it’s easier to manage students who live collectively in fraternities and sororities.

“They are students. I believe in them and when you trust them they will deliver,” Warren said.

Project opponents disagreed.

John O’Brien, who lives nearby in a house that also serves as a bed and breakfast and live music venue, said that earlier in the spring, a drunken sorority member try to breaking into his home because she thought it was where she lived. He also was concerned about the exterior appearance of the property, saying every fraternity house and sorority house looks terrible.

Dixon said fraternities and sororities actually are preserving beautiful homes that may have otherwise fall into ruin.

Former Greenville City Councilwoman Mildred Council, who lives nearby, said no matter how nice a property looks, the activities of fraternity or sorority members will diminish the quality of life for surrounding single-family home owners and that will drive down property values.

Her husband, Walter Council, said adjustment board members have never been awakened by the sound of a man urinating outside a bedroom window or have been cursed at when asking the person to leave.

“All we are asking is for you to be fair. None of you live in that area,” Walter Council said.

An adjustment board member asked Mildred Council if she thought operating the structure as an apartment building, which Davis could do, would be less disruptive. She said it is unlikely all apartment residents will want to hang out all night long.

Jane Keller, a West Fourth Street resident, said the area will be inundated with traffic.

“We are really concerned about the noise and so much more traffic,” Keller said. “It’s getting almost dangerous now since those streets were constructed during the days of the Model T and cars are so much larger now. Only two cars, one parked and one going by, is all we can handle now."

Prior to approving a special-use permit, the Board of Adjustment must find the property meets seven standards related to a project's effect on the community and compliance with development rules.

Board members Ann Bellis and Hunt McKinnon challenged one standard, saying they believed permitting a fraternity/sorority house would be detrimental to nearby property owners and the public welfare. The rest of the board voted that the project wasn’t detrimental so the seven standards were approved.

The board approved the special use permit with a 5-2 vote with Bellis and McKinnon dissenting.