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Alpha Phi house approved

By Karen Kaplan

The Boston City Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday unanimously approved the MIT chapter of Alpha Phi's request to use two buildings on Commonwealth Ave. to house their sorority, according to Neal H. Dorow, advisor to fraternities and independent living groups.

Alpha Phi has wanted to purchase the Kenmore Square area property for some time, and made a deal with the former owner that was contingent on zoning and licensing approval by the city.

Now that the petition to change the use of the building from commercial to residential has been granted, Alpha Phi is more likely than ever to become the first housed sorority at MIT, and is aiming to move in sometime in the summer of 1991. "This was a major, major hurdle for Alpha Phi," said Stephen D. Immerman, director of special services in the Office of the Senior Vice President.

Although there is a 15-day appeal period, during which anyone who objects to having a new sorority in Kenmore Square may try to block the zoning board's ruling, most people felt that such action was unlikely. "An appeal would require legal action," explained Dorow. "In all likelihood, there is only a minimal chance [that it would happen]."

An arduous process

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Finding properties suitable for MIT sororities has been extremely difficult, according to Immerman, because of Boston's detailed zoning regulations and because so many neighborhoods, such as the Back Bay community, have forbidden the establishment of independent living groups from local colleges and universities in their areas.

"This was a weird conversion of opportunity from commercial use to residential sorority use" in Alpha Phi's case, said Immerman. "It's not likely to happen again."

Getting the conversion approved by the zoning board was <>

a long and arduous process. In preparation, Alpha Phi held public hearings to see how the community felt about the sorority living there, explained Joanne E. Spetz '90, an Alpha Phi member who was involved in the housing search. "Some people complained that 60 new college students would mean a lot more trash in the area," Spetz recalled. "We see it as 60 people who will help pick up trash."

To help their image, Alpha Phi has participated in many community service projects in the area, including the Kenmore Square Fair, and has plans to continue with such activity.

"We could have five people go around and pick up trash every Saturday, which would be a really easy thing to do," Spetz suggested. "We've also taken on a <>

long-term project maintaining the playground at Kids Are People Too, a school for young handicapped children, and we'd like to create a long-term relationship with the Kenmore Abbey [a home for elderly handicapped people], too."

In addition to community service projects, the sorority conducted a telethon, urging Kenmore Square residents to write letters to the zoning board in support of their request. "There were about 22 or 23 letters on file in support of Alpha Phi," and they were helpful at the hearing, said Dorow.

At Tuesday's meeting, Spetz presented to the board a summary of the course of action taken by the sorority to get approval of their request. She explained that they held community meetings and participated in community service projects.

"We also told them about our no alcohol and no cars at the house policies," said Spetz. Loud parties and excess traffic were two of the major concerns of the neighborhood residents.

Present at the meeting to speak in favor of Alpha Phi were several sorority members, including Spetz, Jane Pitt, a lawyer for the chapter and Alpha Phi alumna, Kathleen A. Harragan '84, founding president of the Zeta Phi chapter at MIT and current president of the Alpha Phi Alumni Corporation, and Joan Magnusson, Alpha Phi's district governor.

Also in attendance at the meeting were City Councillor Albert O'Neil, Edward Burke of the Mayor's Office, the director of Kids Are People Too, and residents of the community.

One resident came to speak in opposition.

After the board approved Alpha Phi's request, "there was a collective sigh of relief and everyone started hugging each other," Spetz recounted.

Immerman, too, was "enormously pleased" with the decision. "We could have fallen flat on our faces," explained Immerman, who had difficulty describing the "intensity" of the situation.

Although Alpha Phi has now made it over the biggest hurdle in their search for a house, Immerman warned that the approval was not final yet. "Of course, there's still the 15-day appeal period," he said. In addition, Alpha Phi still needs to obtain a lodging license, which Immerman described as "a very fragile process."