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Beta Theta Pi Draws Letter from Borough, Motion for Injunction from Alumnus Over House Use

by on October 06, 2017 4:08 PM

State College Borough wants to know what the alumni corporation that owns Beta Theta Pi house intends to use the property for. An alumnus who is already suing the fraternity wants the owners to stop renting out rooms in the house to chapter alumni.

These latest actions after the house received code violations for failing to acquire the proper permits for change of use.

It's safe to say the decision by the Alpha Upsilon Chapter of Beta Theta to open up the house to alumni for football weekends has not gone unnoticed.

After Penn State student and fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza died in February as a result of injuries suffered during an alcohol-fueled initiation event, the fraternity was banned from the university and former members evicted from the house at 220 N. Burrowes St.  It appeared to remain vacant until the weekend of Sept. 9, when alumni were invited to stay at the house and take part in meals and gatherings on weekends of Penn State home football games.

Accommodations ranged from $50 to $350 to stay in the house, with the money to be used for the fraternity's legal costs stemming from Piazza's death, as first reported by the Associated Press.

Borough zoning officials sent a letter to the owners this week inquiring about the use of the property, with an Oct. 16 deadline to respond. Senior planning director Anne Messner said it's a multi-step process that depends on what information the chapter provides.

The chapter previously was fined in late September a total of $785 by the Centre Region Code Administration for changing the use of the property without a permit from "a non-transient multi-family residential structure to a transient," and for not having a required fire safety license for the changed use.

The chapter's decision also was met with public criticism, including from the attorney for the Piazza family, who told the AP it was "disgraceful and disrespectful."

Meanwhile, alumnus and donor Donald Abbey, who initiated a breach of contract lawsuit against the housing corporation in March, filed a motion in Centre County Court on Thursday seeking an injunction "to restrain the House Corp's unlawful use" of the property.

Abbey's attorney, Edward Butkovitz, said the chapter is renting the house and selling food and alcohol to alumni and guests without the proper zoning permits or the required liquor license.

Abbey says that, per an agreement, he's owed $8.5 million he loaned the chapter over more than a decade for repairs, renovations and operations for the house. Because the house is the chapter's only significant asset, the attorneys for the chapter have said in previous filings, the lawsuit is essentially for control of the house. They also say the agreement was never signed by the chapter's board, that Abbey acted unilaterally in spending his money on the house and that the funds were a gift, not a loan.

In the request for injunction, Butkovitz wrote that the housing corporation's "unlawful conduct threatens to encumber the house," and potentially threatens Abbey's ability to collect on any judgment in his favor.

The disputed funding agreement states that the chapter is obligated to repay Abbey if, among other circumstances, the chapter ceases to be recognized by the national Beta Theta Pi and/or if the house is used for a purpose other than as a fraternity.

Butkovitz said that a cease-and-desist letter was sent to the chapter on Sept. 19. Two days later, the chapter responded that it would continue its use of the house and would oppose any application for injunction, according to the filing.

The housing corporation is selling beer and wine at the house in violation of Pennsylvania liquor laws and concealing those sales by including them in fees for lodging and meals, Butkovitz wrote.

Fines imposed for liquor law violations, as well as any that continue to accrue for code violations, could result in liens against the house, Butkovitz argued, and those liens would supersede any other claims on the house.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at geoff.rushton@statecollege.com or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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