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N.H. Supreme Court Upholds Ruling Against Banned Dartmouth Fraternity

  • A file photo from April 13, 2015, shows members of the Dartmouth College Alpha Delta fraternity on the balcony of their East Wheelock Street house in Hanover, N.H. The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled on April 11, 2017, that members of the fraternity, which was banned from Dartmouth in 2015 for branding its members, cannot live in the mansion. (Valley News - Sarah Shaw) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Concord — The remaining members of Alpha Delta, a fraternity banned from Dartmouth College in 2015, cannot live in their East Wheelock Street house, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

The court, in a 4-0 decision with one recusal, affirmed earlier rulings that found the Alpha Delta house lost its residential zoning status when it was stripped of its affiliation with Dartmouth.

The fraternity was barred from campus in April 2015 after revelations that at least 11 new members had the organization’s Greek letters branded into their skin. The students involved said it was voluntary, but the fraternity was still barred “for causing physical harm to its members and violating the terms of an existing suspension”

Soon after the college acted, the society received notice from town officials that members could no longer reside in the fraternity’s $1.4 million mansion at 9 E. Wheelock St. — a ruling that Alpha Delta appealed first to the Hanover Zoning Board and then in Superior Court before reaching the state’s highest court.

Lawyers for the fraternity argued unsuccessfully that the organization should be considered “grandfathered” because it existed before Hanover adopted the relevant zoning ordinance, which requires that student residences in the campus zoning district operate “in conjunction with” another institution.

Meanwhile, Hanover’s attorney, Laura Spector-Morgan, contended that Alpha Delta had operated in conjunction with Dartmouth in 1976 when the ordinance was adopted, and therefore should be subject to its provisions.

Under New Hampshire law, a property may remain grandfathered for zoning purposes as long as its use does not substantially change from what it was when the relevant ordinance was adopted.

In the town’s eyes, this means that when the fraternity lost recognition in 2015, its use of the property changed and fell out of compliance with town zoning, despite its prior use as a residence before 1976.

In the state Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday, Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis said that the “grandfathering” of Alpha Delta exempted it from some — but not all — of the zoning regulations imposed by the town.

“Alpha Delta’s arguments ... are based upon a faulty assumption,” she wrote for the four-member majority. “As set forth above, Alpha Delta’s use of its property was ‘grandfathered’ in that it was relieved of the requirement that a student residence obtain a special exception.”

Associate Justice James P. Bassett, a 1978 Dartmouth alumnus, recused himself from the case.

During oral arguments in February, Alpha Delta’s attorney Carolyn Cole said the fraternity is in discussion with college officials about the possibility of re-recognition.

A request for comment from members of Alpha Delta’s alumni board of directors was not immediately returned on Tuesday.

In one way, the court case over student residence could be considered moot because of a rule Dartmouth instituted after the branding incident that blocks its students from living in unrecognized Greek-letter houses.

At the time, however, an alumni adviser for Alpha Delta said the fraternity depended on rental income to finance the upkeep of its house. Tuesday’s court decision precludes residence both by students or by anyone else.

Another banned Dartmouth fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, is appealing a similar zoning decision in Superior Court. A final hearing took place last week.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.