Could Your Next Neighbor Be a Frat House? (Spoiler: It Could)

By Cappi Phillips

One of the unintended but potentially harmful consequences of allowing plexes is that you too could have a fraternity on your block.

According to the current code, fraternities and sororities are permitted only in areas zoned institutional. However, nothing prohibits a landlord or investor from signing individual leases with multiple members of such organizations, thereby establishing an official place of residence for these groups in essentially any buildings that have enough space for them.

Under the proposed zoning changes, what’s to prevent a developer from acquiring lots and building two or more quadplexes next to your single family home? This type of housing will become a magnet for the fraternity members who can afford to live in new construction and want to avoid Indiana University’s on-campus housing restrictions.

If you don’t think this could happen in a core or historic neighborhood, you should know that it can and it already has. The city has been unable to stop the illegal occupancy of fraternity members residing at 1000 and 1002 East Atwater, adjacent properties in the Elm Heights historical neighborhood originally designated as rooming houses with an occupancy of 21.

Currently they are the official residence of the Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity, an active chapter (although on probation) recognized by IU and officially listed at this address. The owners were notified in 2018 that they were in violation of code. They were assessed fines. There was an appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals, setting off a series of legal actions. But the fraternity is still there after four years.

These properties were maintained for years by landlords who offered affordable rooms for students desiring to live in close proximity to campus. When the properties were sold four years ago they were purchased by an investor who renovated for and marketed to fraternities. Rents increased dramatically as did the noise, parties, traffic, trash, vermin, vandalism and quality of life deteriorated for the surrounding neighbors.

The city has tried for years to regulate fraternities and sororities by way of zoning ordinance, but has been unable to arrive at a legal definition that uniquely describes these organizations for zoning purposes. Until recently, Bloomington relied on IU to determine what is and isn’t a frat. If the university recognized the organization as a fraternity, the city regulated it as a fraternity. But in January, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the city government could not legally delegate the determination of what is or isn’t a frat to IU. They’re in legal limbo.

The amount of city, county, and university resources expended in trying to insure the residents are “good neighbors” is outrageous. Frats do not belong in quiet residential neighborhoods. IU and city police as well as the board of health, parking enforcement, the mayor’s office, city attorneys and HAND are all too familiar with these properties. The city has gotten nowhere in court and the neighborhood has suffered.

How does the Hamilton Administration guarantee that this will not be an ongoing problem throughout all the neighborhoods once plexes are allowed?

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