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Beta Theta Pi Cited Again For Code Violations

by Geoff Rushton

The alumni corporation for the now defunct Penn State chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity was once again cited for code violations for using the house on North Burrowes Street without the required permits.

After student and fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza suffered fatal injuries at the house in February, the chapter was banned and the house vacated. But in September, the Alpha Upsilon Chapter of Beta Theta Pi — the alumni corporation that owns the house — opened it to alumni to stay in for a fee on Penn State football home game weekends.

Centre Region Code Agency says that changed the use of the house and the owners didn’t get the needed permits to do so. Code officials filed two citation, both dated Saturday, against the house.

One citation is for an unauthorized change of use. The chapter “changed the occupancy … without obtaining the required permit,” according to the citation. Code requires an owner who intends to change the typer of occupancy of a building to apply for and obtain a permit to do so, CRCA wrote in the citation.

The other citation says the house didn’t have a required fire safety license for the changed use. A property owner cannot “operate a place of assembly… or or rent such space” until being issued a fire safety program license. The property owner is required to obtain the license prior to occupancy, and if the use of the space changes the local code official is to be notified within writing within five days so a compliance inspection can be conducted prior to occupancy.

The fines for the citations were $592.50 each for a total $1,185.

It’s the second time code officials have cited the house this fall. CRCA issued the same citations to the house on Sept. 16, with fines for those totaling $785.

The Associated Press first reported in September that alumni were invited to stay at the house and take part in meals and gatherings on weekends of Penn State home football games, with accommodations ranging from $50 to $350

State College Borough zoning officials, meanwhile, separately sent a letter to the owners earlier in October inquiring about the use of the property, with an Oct. 16 deadline to respond. Zoning officer Anne Messner said on Wednesday that her office has had phone conversations with the owners “to work toward addressing the matter from a zoning ordinance review.”

The decision to open the house for football game weekends has been met with criticism, including from the Piazza family. When it first came to light, the family’s attorney, Tom Kline, called it “disgraceful and disrespectful.”

In an interview this week with CBS NewsTimothy Piazza’s mother, Evelyn Piazza, called it “offensive” and “disgusting.”

“That was a crime scene. They shouldn’t be there. That house should be shut down and repurposed,” added Jim Piazza.

And alumnus Donald Abbey, who is suing the chapter for breach of contract over millions of dollars he says he loaned for renovations to the house, is seeking an injunction “to restrain the House Corp’s unlawful use” of the property. Abbey’s lawsuit claims that, per an agreement, he is owed $8.5 million he loaned the chapter over more than a decade for repairs, renovations and operations for the house.

The chapter says the money was a gift, not a loan, that its full board never approved the agreement, and that Abbey made decisions to spend the money unilaterally. 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.

The motion for injunction says that 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. Fines imposed for liquor law violations, as well as any that continue to accrue for code violations, could result in liens against the house, Abbey’s attorneys argued, and those liens would supersede any other claims on the house. The house is the chapter’s only significant asset and should Abbey win judgment in the suit would be the source of payment.

The alumni corporation filed a response last week saying its “use of the house is lawful and does not damage or otherwise adversely affect the value of the house.” It is also not selling beer and wine, and risks no liquor law liability, the filing states.

“It is admitted that Defendant is making guest rooms and meals at its house available to alumni members and their guests in exchange for a voluntary donation,” chapter attorney Michael Leahey wrote in the response.

But, he wrote, the alumni corporation still owns the house and is not precluded from using it for the chapter’s alumni members.

A hearing on the request for injunction is scheduled for Friday morning in Centre County Court.

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