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MIT Awaits Settlement on New Building for Alpha Chi Omega

By Daniel C. Stevenson
Associate News Editor

Members of the MIT chapter of Alpha Chi Omega sorority will move into their own house at 478 Commonwealth Ave. next fall if a zoning variance and a lodging license are approved.

Though the move is still subject to approval by a licensing board, MIT has signed a purchase agreement, according to Director of Special Services Stephen D. Immerman.

AXO President Diane E. Hodges '95 said the house is beautiful. "One great thing is that it gives us the best of both worlds," Hodges said. Since the house only holds 25 people, Hodges foresees it housing only juniors and seniors in the long run. Currently AXO has 86 members.

The sorority also considered an option of living in Building W2 next to McCormick Hall, the current Religious Counselors' offices and Panhellenic building, Hodges said. "We had been considering W2 for a while," Hodges said, but that site lacked a kitchen and "other facilities that we really looked forward to."

AXO, which is MIT's second oldest sorority, is the second MIT sorority to have its own house. In 1991 Alpha Phi moved into a house across the street from the new AXO site.

Alpha Phi has 94 members, 60 of which live in the house, said Alpha Phi member Christi M. Hebert '94. "It is really strange to move," said Hebert, who was house manager during Alpha Phi's first year off campus. Living in the dormitories is "not the same thing as being part of a community that's a cooperative living group," she said.

"I'm really excited about having an opportunity to live off campus in our house. It's absolutely gorgeous," said AXO member Kelly M. Hetherington '97. "I think that we're all going to have to make a few sacrifices in moving into the house, [but] I think it will be worth it to live with all of our sisters."

Although MIT has agreed on a price and signed the sale agreement, "we said we do not want to close on this property until we get through the process of getting a zoning variance for its use [as a sorority house] and getting it licensed as a lodging house," Immerman said.

The site for the proposed house is in a "conditional use zone" west of Charlesgate on Commonwealth Avenue, Immerman said. This means that the use of the building for sorority housing would have to be "allowed by special permit of the Zoning Board of Appeals of the City of Boston," Immerman said.

Also, a "community hearing process" will be held with residents of the building area, said Neal H. Dorow, assistant dean and adviser to fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups.

MIT will then "fashion a lease for the sorority," Immerman said. The lease will be a "very, very long term ground lease" that grants AXO "more or less the right to ownership."

An architect is creating the drawings that will be submitted to the zoning board. MIT will hire a general contractor to perform the necessary renovations after the zoning is approved, Immerman said.

"It is our hope that we would be able to achieve a move-in for fall semester," Immerman said. However, "there are very many variables between now and then."

Location, renovations considered

Several criteria went into the selection of the house, Immerman said. "The first issue is zoning," he said, because available property in most of the Back Bay area cannot be used for fraternity or sorority housing.

MIT looked for a location reasonably near the main campus and also adjacent to "services and things that are going to support the needs of student life," Immerman said. The house is near the Kenmore Square area.

"One of the best things about it is that it's in a nice, safe neighborhood, and that there's a T-stop nearby," Hetherington said.

The building is currently zoned as both residential and business, Immerman said. Changing the zoning to residential is an asset for the surrounding community and would make the sorority housing more amenable, Immerman said.

The cost of renovating the building must also be considered, Immerman said. "Independent residences have to support the cost of renovation for houses," he said. "There's a certain point at which you can't afford to do it."

The amount of renovation will not be large because "fortunately in this particular case it is a truly beautiful building," Immerman said. "Having been in single-family use, it was maintained very well."