21 Aug 2014
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Beta House Controversy Leads to Lawsuit Against City Board

Property owner of 135 McCall St. is asking a Waukesha County Circuit Court judge to reverse the decision of the Board of Zoning Appeals that states the property no longer has fraternity status.

Beta House Controversy Leads to Lawsuit Against City Board

The property owner of the building that housed the suspended Beta Pi Epsilon fraternity has filed a lawsuit against the City of Waukesha Board of Zoning Appeals after the board ruled the 135 McCall St. property no longer met the definition for a fraternity home.

The owner, Thomas Higbee, was visibly angry with Carroll University administration, police, city staff and the board following the decision in early January. Higbee is now seeking a reversal of the decision that would prevent him from allowing more than three unrelated people live in the building.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Waukesha County Circuit Court also seeks the costs of the lawsuit to be transferred to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Higbee is arguing in the lawsuit that the board got it wrong when they revoked the fraternity designation from the building. The lawsuit states the board did not correctly interpret the zoning code, that the building should be grandfathered into the zoning code because it was operating as a fraternity home before the zoning code changed and that the board was biased and prejudiced against allowing a fraternity to continue operating at the property.

Under the city’s ordinances, no more than three unrelated people can live together in the same residence. Fraternities that are directly affiliated with a college or university are given an exception.

But in April 2012, Beta Pi Epsilon was no longer recognized as a fraternity. The fraternity was suspended for a variety of reasons, including the inability to find an adviser, their conduct record and academic performance. The former Betas have been in conversations with Carroll University, but it is unclear when and if the fraternity will be reinstated.

Emanuele Vitale, a former longtime alderman now seeking a spot back on the Common Council, said during the Jan. 7 hearing that he has seen problems with fraternities in the area since 1992 – “fights,” “people who are on drugs” and “derelicts.”

“There were so many shenanigans going on,” said Vitale about fraternity activities in 1992. “There were three to four fraternities in that area. … The situations that went on there were unbelievable.”

The 106-year-old fraternity was suspended from the university “indefinitely,” in April after the fraternity missed two deadlines to obtain an adviser.

“Unfortunately, in more recent years, current members of the fraternity have fallen short in their academic endeavors and their conduct record has frequently proven disruptive,” states a letter from Carroll University. “This has placed the fraternity in an untenable position. These issues have continued after several years of concerted efforts on the part of Beta Pi Epsilon alumni and university administrators to help correct the performance of current members.”

The letter states the university will work with the fraternity’s members to restart the fraternity with its key values — strong academics, community service, philanthropy and to be respected young men.

Beta Pi Epsilon had 30 current members as of November 2011.

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