GORHAM – Town officials are developing a proposal to ban new fraternity and sorority houses in the town of Gorham, home to a University of Southern Maine campus.

The proposal follows a Town Council decision to seize the Phi Kappa Sigma house at 27 Preble St. The house owes more than $27,000 in property taxes and has serious code violations.

A second house, Delta Chi at 23 Preble St., is under the threat of seizure for unpaid taxes and code violations.

The Phi Kappa Sigma house was seized in June for its tax delinquency and 140 code violations, ranging from a chair blocking a doorway to sewage in the basement. Police have been called to the house for service 149 times since 2005.

On July 6, the council voted 6-1 to look into banning future fraternities and sororities by eliminating them as a permitted use under the zoning ordinance. Councilor Noah Miner cast the dissenting vote.

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing next month to consider the proposal. The Town Council will take its final vote after another public hearing.

The proposed ban would not affect the town’s two remaining fraternity houses: Delta Chi and Sigma Nu on School Street. However, the council’s ordinance committee is developing a separate proposal to regulate them.

Councilor Matthew Robinson serves on the committee that is developing the ordinance. He said if fraternities and sororities are important to USM, then it can provide the land on its campus to house them.

“This is about protecting the residents in Gorham,” Robinson said.

“We’ve had nothing but complaints from the neighbors. They didn’t stick to their payment plan. How many chances can you give someone?”

Bob Caswell, USM’s spokesman, said the university plans to meet with town officials to develop the proposals.

“The university’s top priority is to remain a good neighbor,” Caswell said. “We need to find a solution that is in everyone’s best interests.”

When the Phi Kappa Sigma house was seized last month, 10 members were living there. The doors were padlocked last week, and a sign on the door directed fraternity members to call the Fire Department to gain access to their belongings.

The fraternity has until the end of this month to move out. Brian Longfellow, president of the fraternity, said it has seen a steady membership decline over the past few years.

Longfellow said Phi Kappa Sigma pays roughly $16,000 a year in dues and other fees to its national chapter. With only five fraternity members living in the house during the school year, the house could afford to pay only the mortgage and utility bills, he said.

Longfellow said the proposal to ban fraternity houses is a bad idea. Fraternity members have worked hard to be good neighbors, he said.

“It’s a college town,” he said. “Fraternities and sororities should be allowed to prosper.”

The Delta Chi fraternity, next door to the Phi Kappa house, could be the next to go.

Maureen Finger, the town’s finance director, said Delta Chi owes $6,463 in property taxes, including the current year’s bill, which is $3,273.

Finger said if the group doesn’t pay $3,066 by February, the property will be foreclosed.

Police Chief Ronald Shepard said his department received 32 calls for service at the Delta Chi house from January 2009 to June 2010.

“It’s a lot of calls for one residence in one year,” Shepard said. “It’s disturbing.”

Delta Chi’s taxes are paid by Gorham State Delta Chi Building Corp., a group of alumni fraternity members who own the property.

Jon Taylor, the group’s secretary, said the fraternity is working with its national chapter to obtain a loan to pay its remaining taxes and bring the house up to code.

Taylor said the Fire Department told the fraternity it has until 2012 to install a sprinkler system in the building.

“The system is going to cost $20,000,” Taylor said. “We need to raise money. We have a lot of bills, just like everyone. We are very, very confident these bills will be paid shortly.”

If the council approves the ban, it would keep Alpha Xi Delta from buying an off-campus house for its sorority.

Anastasia Skibicki, a member of the sorority, said last week that Alpha Xi Delta has been looking for an off-campus house.

That would help increase the organization’s membership and get more women involved in its charitable work, Skibicki said.

“This is definitely affecting us,” she said of the proposed ban. “It’s such a bummer.”

Some neighbors feel differently.

Rhonda Laughlin, who lives a few houses away from the fraternities on Elm Street, said students who are presumably drunk urinate and vomit on her property, pull up her plants and cut through her driveway at all hours of the night.

“Would I like to see them out of our neighborhoods? Absolutely,” Laughlin said. “This has been going on a long time.”

Jeff Earl, who lives across the street from the two fraternity houses on Preble Street, said they’ve been good neighbors for the past year or so.

“It’s been kind of weird not having them here,” Earl said. “It’s a little strange.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

[email protected]