Local residents in the Chapel West District are hesitant to welcome a new neighbor, Yale’s Alpha Phi chapter, which plans to move into a renovated house on 33 Edgewood Ave. in August.
Alpha Phi is currently seeking a special permit from the city to expand the property, purchased in November 2016 for $545,000, from six to eight bedrooms. At an April 11 meeting, the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals heard complaints from neighborswho argued that the presence of a sorority house would drag down the real estate value of nearby properties, decrease the availability of parking and disrupt the neighborhood with loud gatherings. Interviews with nearby residents and Alpha Phi members reveal disagreement over whether sororities are prone to the same levels of partying and grime associated with fraternities.
“Sororities aren’t even allowed to throw parties, so it seems like our house should be less of a concern than, say, a sports team house or frat,” said one member of Yale’s Alpha Phi chapter, who requested anonymity in light of media restrictions placed on members of Panhellenic sororities on campus.
Arnie Lehrer — founder of real estate firm Arnold Lehrer Properties and the owner of 2–8 Lynwood Place, which is directly adjacent to the sorority house — said he is worried about parties and noise nearby once the chapter moves in. One of the tenants at 2–8 Lynwood Place, which is primarily occupied by Yale graduate students, wrote Lehrer a letter expressing concerns about the sorority’s plans. Other residents in the same building were unaware of their incoming neighbors, Lehrer added.
Given the increasing number of sports houses, fraternities and sororities which have moved to the neighborhood, Lehrer thinks that the Chapel West District could become similar to Lake Place behind Payne Whitney Gymnasium — a haven for Yale’s Greek life party scene.
“I am concerned. There are a number of those houses coming into the neighborhood,” Lehrer said. “There were many on Lake Place, and it didn’t work out very well for the neighborhood. It’s not going to work out well for our neighborhood either.”
Still, once the chapter moves in, Lehrer said he would like to introduce himself to the new residents and get to know them.
Alpha Phi, which opened its Yale chapter in 2015, is in the midst of investing several hundred thousand dollars into refurbishing the residence before members move in. The sorority originally planned to house 12 members in the building but has since decreased that number to eight — the occupancy which new zoning regulations, if passed by the BZA on May 9, would permit.
Four members of Alpha Phi interviewed had not heard about any concerns from property owners in the area regarding the sorority move-in. None of the four members considered the allegations at the BZA meeting to be well-founded.
“We rarely, if ever, receive community complaints related to our chapter houses operating near other campuses, and definitely do not expect to in New Haven once the hearing process is complete,” said Linda Kahangi, executive director of the national Alpha Phi organization. “In my experience, however, it is very common for neighbors to comment during city planning meetings when any type of group or student housing is proposed until they have a good understanding of the group’s operating model and they meet and begin to trust the people involved.”
Vincent Romei, president of the Chapel West Special Services District, which plans street maintenance and trash collection in the area, said he is unfazed by the sorority’s plans to move to Chapel West. He added that, in the absence of a landlord for the 33 Edgewood property, he hopes Yale’s Alpha Phi chapter will designate a student to whom Chapel West Special Services can speak about any concerns that may arise.
“It’s important that we maintain a civil place to operate,” Romei said.
Some fraternities on campus have had to similarly balance their living arrangements with the needs of local property owners. A member of Chi Psi, which re-established its presence at Yale in 2013, told the News that their chapter is “strongly discouraged” from putting up Greek letters on the outside of the two houses the fraternity has occupied since its re-establishment out of respect for the aesthetic appearance of their neighborhoods.
At the BZA meeting, Deputy Zoning Director Tom Talbot discussed concerns from neighbors regarding Greek letters erected on the Alpha Phi house and said that current regulations would permit the lettering, according to the New Haven Independent.
Alpha Phi was founded in Syracuse, New York in 1872.