Use of apartment building raises questions

Tanya Marsh

Tanya Marsh

Is it a fraternity house or not?

That’s the question facing the city of Brookings, 14 residents of an apartment building, the apartment’s landlord and neighbors.

At 804 6th Ave. stands a large house that has been converted into seven apartments with individual leases. Currently, all seven apartments are rented to members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. But senior Ray Schmidt, fraternity president, said that doesn’t make the house a fraternity house.

“There are 14 people living in the house and all 14 are Sigma Phi Epsilon, but it isn’t the Sigma Phi Epsilon house,” Schmidt said. “It’s kind of like six football players getting together and renting an apartment.”

The apartment building’s address and phone number are found in the Brookings directory under the listing “Sigma Phi Epsilon.”

According to Brookings zoning laws, a fraternity is “a building, other than a hotel, that is arranged, intended or designed to be occupied as a residence for a group of more than five members who reside therein and recognized as a chartered chapter by a national or international organization or society.”

Dan Hansen, Brookings’ planning, zoning and housing administrator, said the apartment building stands in an R2 medium-density zone of the city. This means a fraternity would have to go through a “conditional use process” in order to stand in that part of town.

Hansen was unwilling to comment on the city’s official stance on the apartment, simply saying, “We recognize that [structure] as a 7-unit apartment” and that official procedures would have to be followed “if it’s used differently than that.”

Tom Yseth lives one house down from the apartment, at 812 6th Ave. He said he thinks the apartment is acting as a fraternity house, violating the zoning laws of the neighborhood he lives in.

It is this violation that concerns Yseth, not any rowdy behavior on the part of the tenants, he said.

“It’s no animal house. I know a few of them and met them and they’re fine young guys,” he said. “The problem is a fraternity shouldn’t exist in a residential area.”

Yseth said the city is aware of the situation.

“Now the city has to make a determination and [the tenants] are going to be bystanders to a conflict between the landlord and the city,” he said.

Rocky Gilbert, the landlord, said he received a letter from the city concerning the apartment.

“The letter did not express a recommendation [for the tenants to move out]. It was stronger than that,” he said.

Gilbert said that he hasn’t taken any action since receiving the letter because he isn’t sure “what kind of force would be behind that letter.” He declined to comment further on the situation.

Fraternity president Schmidt said though he had heard whisperings of being asked to move out by Feb. 1, he hasn’t heard anything official from the city or his landlord, Gilbert. Since landlords are obligated to give tenants one-month notice prior to eviction, he said he feels confident a Feb. 1 move-out date is out of the question.

“For me as the renter, I know that nothing’s going to happen,” he said.

#1.885519:3127444822.jpg:frat boysonline.jpg:Senior Ray Schmidt, right, president of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, stands with fellow fraternity members outside the apartment building they and others rent.: