Citing concerns about student behavior and the impact on the community, Newark City Council on Monday rejected a proposal for a new fraternity house on Continental Avenue.
“I believe the extension of this fraternity into the city will negatively affect the quality of life of the surrounding residents. I also believe it will impact the police department,” Councilman John Suchanec said.
Suchanec was joined in opposition by Mayor Jerry Clifton and Councilman Jay Bancroft. Meanwhile, council members Travis McDermott, Jason Lawhorn and Dwendolyn Creecy voted in favor. By law, a tie vote means the proposal fails.
The request for a special-use permit came from the recently reconstituted chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha, commonly referred to as PIKE.
The organization was seeking to convert a house at 34 Continental Avenue into a fraternity house for PIKE. The house has been owned since 2013 by the Delta Eta Corporation, the nonprofit that supports the local PIKE chapter. However, it has been rented to an outside organization for use as a homeless shelter and later a residential treatment center for drug-addicted offenders who are pregnant.
PIKE has a long history at the University of Delaware dating back to 1948. However, UD suspended the fraternity in 2005 after it was found guilty of three charges in the student judicial system, including providing false information to the City of Newark about a party, serving alcohol to underage students at that party and allowing an intoxicated, underage student to leave the party without providing assistance or a safe ride.
A week before that incident, a 20-year-old UD student told police she was raped during a party at the PIKE house, according to Newark Post archives. It’s not clear if charges were ever filed.
As a result of the alcohol violations, the fraternity lost its grandfathered status and had to vacate its fraternity house at 163 S. Chapel St. That property was later sold to a developer and is now part of an off-campus student apartment complex.
The fraternity’s current chapter at UD was founded last year and is in good standing, according to fraternity president Matt Logiovino.
He said that UD’s Chapter Assessment Program rates PIKE as Gold Level, meaning it exceeds the university’s expectations. He added that the fraternity has more than 80 members and is committed to philanthropy in the community, including supporting Preston’s March for Energy, which donates adaptive bicycles to children in need.
PIKE’s mission “is to take a college boy, turn him into a fraternity man and then prepare him to be a community man post graduation,” Logiovino said.
Police department raises concerns
Though the fraternity touts its Gold Level status and charity work, Deputy Police Chief Mark Farrall said his officers have had problems with a property connected to the fraternity.
The issues involved a house on East Park Place, which is not an official frat house but was used by the fraternity to host a recruitment event in September.
In the week leading up to the recruitment event, police were called to the house for complaints of noise at least three times, Farrall said. On one occasion, officers issued a warning and were then called back a few hours later, when they made an arrest for violation of the noise ordinance. They also arrested an underage student seen walking out of the house holding an open container of alcohol.
“In some way, shape or form, this house is affiliated with that fraternity and they have had numerous instances of quality of life issues,” Farrall said.
The Newark Police Department officially opposed the special-use permit, noting the “massive parties and crimes” associated with fraternity houses in the past. It also expressed concern that the property could be converted to an unsanctioned “underground” fraternity if the special-use permit is revoked in the future.
NPD noted that while UD continues to approve fraternities, it no longer houses any on campus.
“The police department believes the expansion of fraternities and sororities into the city will negatively impact the quality of life to surrounding residents and cause order and maintenance issues that the city’s special operations unit has worked to reduce,” NPD wrote in a memo to council.
Robert Tkachick, head of the fraternity’s alumni board, said that granting PIKE a special-use permit for an official house would give the alumni board and the house corporation, Delta Eta, more oversight of the students.
“[The East Park Place property] is not a sanctioned fraternity house, so the house corporation has absolutely no authority to go into that house and tell the brothers they can or cannot do anything, versus 34 Continental Avenue that the house corporation owns,” Tkachick said.
He noted that the proposed fraternity house would be a “dry house,” with no alcohol or parties allowed. After strong prompting from council members, fraternity leaders agreed to make the alcohol prohibition a condition of the special-use permit, meaning the permit could be revoked if fraternity members were caught with alcohol in the house.
Still, some on council were skeptical that the alcohol ban would be followed.
“I find it a little incredulous there wouldn’t be booze,” Bancroft said. “These folks are living somewhere now. I guess they want to move into a group house where there's no co-eds, no women, and no booze? It just doesn't sound like a normal fraternity.”
“I've never seen a fraternity house without a keg, and I was associated with three of them. Some had good beer and some didn't,” Suchanec said. “Guys together in a house, there’s going to be booze. You can’t enforce no alcohol. It can't be a dry house. It just won't happen.”
Proposal came amidst renewed scrutiny of fraternities
PIKE’s proposal came amid renewed scrutiny of fraternities at UD in the wake of the brutal assault and kidnapping of a student earlier this month. The defendant, Brandon Freyre, was a member of the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity, but UD officials said there is nothing that connects the fraternity to the incident.
Still, the incident prompted large protests, with many students calling on UD to more strictly supervise fraternities.
The protesters want to see better enforcement of the rule that requires members of Greek Life organizations to take sexual assault prevention training. They also want fraternities and other organizations to offer more education and presentations about sexual assault and abuse.
UD records show that only 71 percent of PIKE’s members have completed the university’s mandatory sexual assault prevention training.
McDermott asked Logiovino why 29 percent of the members failed to complete the training.
“I don't think that I would have brought this before a council with the 71 percent showing. To me, that's unacceptable, especially with all the things that are going on, specifically on this campus and the protests that are going on on Main Street,” McDermott said.
Logiovino said some of the students recorded as not taking the training may have dropped out of the fraternity. But he acknowledged that in light of recent events, he will seek to “amend our mistake” and encourage more members to complete the training.
He noted that PIKE’s 71 percent is the second-highest number among UD fraternities.
“It's disgusting that it's not 100 percent,” Logiovino said. “And that's something that I'm holding myself accountable for making sure that as an organization we get that completed as soon as it is provided to us by the university.”
Newark lifted frat house ban last year
Once more common in Newark, fraternity houses are a rare sight in the city.
According to city officials, there are only two existing fraternity houses in Newark, one on Amstel Avenue and one on West Main Street. There are also eight sorority houses – seven on UD property, and one privately owned house on Haines Street.
There are many other fraternities and sororities recognized by UD that do not own houses.
PIKE was hoping to take advantage of a new procedure instituted when city council overturned Newark’s de-facto ban on fraternity houses last year.
Under a law passed in 2002, fraternity and sorority houses were banned, except for existing ones that were grandfathered in. By law, a fraternity or sorority would lose its grandfathered status if the organization is suspended for more than a year.
In 2020, the Kappa Alpha Educational Foundation sued the city after Kappa Alpha was suspended and lost its grandfathered status for its fraternity house on Amstel Avenue.
Council ultimately agreed to lift the ban and create a process for granting special-use permits for new fraternity or sorority houses.
Under the new law, fraternity and sorority uses can be allowed in areas zoned RM or RA, which are zoning classifications that allow apartment buildings and are most common in student-dominated areas. Approval is contingent on city council granting a special-use permit, which can have conditions attached and is not transferrable from one fraternity to another.
City council can vote to revoke the permit if the property causes a problem.
Last year, Alpha Sigma Phi was granted a special-use permit to rent Kappa Alpha’s house until Kappa Alpha’s suspension is lifted in 2023.
However, PIKE’s proposal would have been the first new fraternity house authorized under the new law.