GORHAM — The Town Council voted Tuesday night to approve two proposals that will ban new fraternity and sorority houses in town but allow two existing houses to remain provided they meet certain conditions.

The council voted 5-1 in favor of eliminating fraternity and sorority houses as a permitted use under town zoning. Councilor Noah Miner cast the dissenting vote.

The two existing fraternity houses at the University of Southern Maine will be grandfathered under the proposal, which was opposed by the Gorham Planning Board.

The council also voted 5-1 to approve a set of guidelines regulating the existing fraternity houses, Delta Chi on Preble Street and Sigma Nu on School Street. The proposal will require the houses to pay for an annual license administered by the town. The houses must also pass semi-annual safety code inspections and pay their property taxes on time.

About 50 people attended the hearing, many of them fraternity or sorority members.

Dan Santos, a member of Sigma Nu who also serves as president of USM’s interfraternity council, urged the council to reject both proposals.

He said USM’s newly implemented behavioral guidelines for fraternities — which include quiet hours and require members to notify USM’s student life office and Gorham and USM police prior to parties and other events — have improved relations with neighbors.

“The ordinance isn’t fair and doesn’t reflect the positive change that has happened over the past year,” Santos said after Tuesday’s votes. “I’m disappointed and genuinely surprised that the neighbors didn’t speak in favor of us … last month they shook my hand.”

Tim Allard, who lives on Preble Street, urged the council to approve the ordinances.

“We do have the biggest problem,” he said. “There’s noise, complaints and mischief. It’s like a combat zone. It’s not the Old Port. It’s Preble Street.”

Councilor Burleigh Loveitt also spoke for the ordinances, and criticized a sorority not recognized by the school that threw a party Thursday night.

“What, in the name of all that’s holy, would possess responsible parties to have a party in the face of this hearing that required police action four days before we are taking up 20 years of abuse?” Loveitt asked.

“I would be hard-pressed to deny the relief to the persons on Preble Street,” he said. “I would be further hard-pressed to inflict this on residents in another part of town.”

Council Chairman Michael Phinney also supported the ordinances.

“I can’t envision exposing other neighborhoods to what (Preble Street residents) have gone through,” he said.

Under the rules governing the existing fraternities, town officials can revoke a license if a house exceeds more than five responses by the Gorham Police Department requiring them to act on a violation. It can also revoke a license if a fraternity fails to notify local police and fire departments of an event with 15 or more people, or if a fraternity house fails to meet the code requirements in a reasonable time.

The proposals follow a town council decision in June to seize the Phi Kappa Sigma house at 27 Preble St. The house owed more than $27,000 in property taxes and had been cited for 140 code violations, ranging from a chair blocking a doorway to sewage in the basement. Police had been called to the house 149 times since 2005.

Bob Caswell, executive director of public affairs at USM, said before the meeting that the college hoped the council would consider allowing time to see if USM’s guidelines led to improvement.

He said since last spring, USM has addressed five violations against Phi Kappa Sigma and the two other houses that resulted in sanctions.

“We believe that progress has been made,” Caswell said after the vote. “At the same time, there has been a long history of complaints. It’s understandable why they took the action they did.”

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: [email protected]