Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 11, 2017

NH Supreme Court Finds Revocation of Fraternity Status Results in Zoning Code Violation

Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on the Municipal Minute Blog and is reposted with permission. See:

In 2015, Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire revoked the “student organization” status of Alpha Delta, a fraternity most famous for having inspired the hit comedy film “Animal House,” after finding that at least 11 new pledge brothers’ buttocks were branded with the Alpha Delta Greek letters.

Shortly after its student organization status was revoked by the College, the Town notified the fraternity that the continued use of the property as a residence following its “derecognition” by Dartmouth College was a violation of the Town’s zoning ordinance and that the continued occupancy of the property by at least 18 individuals must cease immediately. The Town of Hanover’s zoning ordinance allows a student residence within the institution district by special exception when the residence is “designed for and occupied by students and operated in conjunction with another institutional use, which may include individual living units with social rooms and kitchen facilities for any number of students.” However, Alpha Delta had never sought a special exception for the use of its property, instead relying on being grandfathered in when in 1976 the zoning ordinance was enacted. So,

Alpha Delta appealed the zoning administrator’s decision to the ZBA, arguing that it was “grandfathered” from the special exception requirement. However, following a hearing, the ZBA ruled that Alpha Delta failed to provide any proof that it was lawfully nonconforming.

The fraternity then appealed to the courts. The New Hampshire Superior and Supreme Courts both agreed that in order to prove that the fraternity use was grandfathered, Alpha Delta needed to show that it operated its property in a manner that was not ‘in conjunction with another institutional use’ at the time the ‘in conjunction with’ requirement was adopted, in 1976.  The fraternity failed to do so. As a result, the court upheld the ZBA’s finding that upon the College’s revocation of its recognition of Alpha Delta as a student organization, Alpha Delta has no association with the College and was, therefore,no longer “operating in conjunction with” the College.

Dartmouth Corp of Alpha Delta v Town of Hanover, No. 2016-0304 (N.H.April 11, 2017).

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