Penn State

Want to buy a frat house? Here’s what could happen to a former fraternity for sale in State College

Windows are boarded up at the former Pi Lambda Phi fraternity house at 321 Fraternity Row on Wednesday. The fraternity was suspended by the university in 2017, and the house is now on the market for $990,000.
Windows are boarded up at the former Pi Lambda Phi fraternity house at 321 Fraternity Row on Wednesday. The fraternity was suspended by the university in 2017, and the house is now on the market for $990,000. adrey@centredaily.com

If you’re interested in buying a 10,000-square-foot, nearly $1 million, 1900s home with 19 bedrooms and a commercial kitchen within walking distance of Penn State’s University Park campus — you’re in luck.

Such a property is on the market, listed by Linda and Ryan Lowe at RE/MAX Centre Realty.

Yes — it’s a frat house.

The former Pi Lambda Phi house, located at 321 Fraternity Row, is listed for $990,000 and approved for up to 57 occupants.

Now that more than a dozen Penn State fraternities have been suspended as the result of stricter Greek-life restrictions the university set after the hazing death of Beta Theta Pi pledge Timothy Piazza in 2017, Ed LeClear, State College’s planning director, said former fraternity houses becoming more common on the real-estate market.

Former Beta Theta Pi brother Ryan Burke pleaded guilty to charges of hazing in relation to the death of Beta pledge Timothy Piazza in February 2017. Burke's attorney, Philip Masorti, said his client extended his condolences to the Piazza family.

The former Delta Tau Delta house at 429 East Hamilton Avenue sold over the summer for $1.5 million.

Once Penn State revokes a fraternity’s recognition, the home is no longer considered a fraternity by the borough’s definition, LeClear explained, making it essentially a rooming house — which is not permitted under the zoning ordinance.

A couple suspended fraternities, however, did win decisions in Centre County Court in November to hold on to their houses without Penn State recognition.

Pi Lambda Phi was suspended in October 2017, according to a release from the university, for violating Penn State’s expectations by making alcohol available to guests on three separate occasions during social events, and violating the capacity of the house and expectations for dry social functions.

After the fraternity was suspended, its members moved out and the building was boarded up. Jennifer Neely, an agent with the Lowe real-estate team, said she’s hoping someone can purchase the home and fix it up.

“I think with some renovations, it can be really nice,” she said. “Obviously, frat houses aren’t always kept up with if they’re rented back to back, if there’s not a lot of time for turnover for people to go in there and do a lot of upgrades. So this will be really good for an investor to get in there, fix it up and make it one of the nicer frats.”

Both Neely and LeClear said their offices have received a lot of calls about the property, including a few from people with interesting ideas about what they’d like to do with it.

The former Pi Lambda Phi house is located in the R-2 zoning district, or low-density residential, which typically means single-family homes and duplexes. A new fraternity would not be permitted in the R-2 district, but fraternities built there before the zoning changes in 2000 are legally allowed, LeClear said.

Therefore, the permitted uses for the 321 Fraternity Row property are as a fraternity or sorority house, or a single-family home.

However, the zoning ordinance allows special exceptions for certain uses to be made through the zoning hearing board.

Those uses, according to LeClear, include:

  • a club or community center
  • daycare center for children
  • home for elderly persons
  • a nursing home
  • offices
  • a private school

“I should point out, though, that in those cases, you wouldn’t be able to go back to a fraternity,” LeClear said. “At least not in the current zoning.”

Although conversions of fraternities are rare, it has been done before in State College. The last time LeClear could recall was in 1989, when the fraternity at 507 Locust Lane was converted into an ophthalmology office, which it remains today.

The fraternity could also be demolished, but as it’s a contributing historic property, the owner would have to get permission from Borough Council.

The other wrinkle is that Penn State is starting now to see sororities move into empty frat houses.

“I think there was a myth you couldn’t have sororities live in a house, but it actually is allowed,” Neely said. “So I think having the option to rent to a fraternity or sorority is definitely an awesome option.”

The first case of a Penn State sorority moving into private, off-campus housing is expected to happen in the fall semester, when Phi Sigma Sigma is set to move into the former Sigma Alpha Epsilon house at 200 E. Beaver Ave., according to The Daily Collegian.

“We were aware of this development and this is a new direction for a Greek-letter sorority at Penn State,” university spokesperson Lisa Powers said. “We hope that the presence of Phi Sigma Sigma in State College borough will add value to their organization and to the broader community.”

Any Greek-life organization that moves into private housing must have a functioning alumni house corporation to handle the physical maintenance of the house, Powers said, and undergraduate organizational leadership that is responsive to Penn State’s rules, regulations and expectations for managing a recognized student group.

One popular idea for the former Pi Lambda Phi property might prove a bit tricky: a bed-and-breakfast.

Saying initially that it wouldn’t be permitted, LeClear read further into the ordinance and discovered it’s not exactly impossible but may be impractical. If someone wanted to operate a bed-and-breakfast out of a frat house, it’d have to be limited to two unrelated people sleeping there at one time. And it’d have to be within 500 feet of another such establishment.

“So somebody could live in a fraternity and have two unrelated people sleeping over as a bed-and-breakfast, but it wouldn’t be a 20-room bed-and-breakfast,” LeClear said.

For all those who commented with their preferred hotelier or other dreams on the Linda and Ryan Lowe group’s Facebook listing for the house, LeClear signaled hope.

“We haven’t really seen consensus yet on what other conversion uses could added,” he said. “But I think as we do the more comprehensive zoning update, there probably will be a few other pieces that get added.”

Lauren Muthler covers what’s happening right now in Centre County, from breaking news, road closures and weather, to cool and interesting stories she finds along the way. Oh, and Penn State wrestling.

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