Alpha Omicron Pi sorority house at center of multiyear real estate dispute

Tim Hyon/Staff

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3/2/15: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that houses sold by Alpha Omicron Pi were not on campuses with active chapters.

The property at 2311 Prospect St., which houses UC Berkeley’s Alpha Omicron Pi sorority house, has been the center of a dispute between the sorority’s international corporation and the local corporation that owns the property.

Since 2009, Alpha Omicron Pi Fraternity, Inc. and Sigma 1916 have attempted to resolve a dispute involving disagreement over control of the property after Sigma 1916 did not comply with a 2005 directive from the international corporation.

The directive, which requires local corporations to alter their bylaws, would initiate a transition to what Alpha Omicron Pi assistant director of public relations Rachel Boison called “coordinated property management.”

Currently, control of the property is exercised through Sigma 1916’s board. Some members of the board, consisting of former Alpha Omicron Pi alumni, have expressed concern that amending the corporation’s bylaws could eventually pose problems for the property and the chapter.

Carol Rice, who serves on the Sigma 1916 board, said legal counsel has indicated that a change could trigger a substantial increase of property taxes under Proposition 13, which in certain instances requires a revaluation of property taxes. Rice said the cost of maintaining the house could increase by $1,000 per collegiate per year.

At its most recent appraisal, the property was valued at $4 million, according to Sigma 1916 president Sandy Jaeger in an email to Alpha Omicron Pi alumni.

“We greatly fear that (new leadership) might not be able to maintain the property as we have and might not be able to repay any loans encumbered by the property, thereby risking loss of the property,” Jaeger said in the email.

In September, Alpha Omicron Pi offered a settlement proposal that would allow the Sigma corporation to keep its title for the house, local alumni to retain representation on the board and college students to continue living at the house, according to Boison.

Yet Rice still worried about possibly having to leave majority control of the board, which makes decisions about the property, to nonlocal Alpha Omicron Pi representatives. She said that Alpha Omicron Pi, to facilitate the 2005 directive, “demanded” Sigma 1916 to vote in representatives from the international organization as members of their board.

On Saturday, members of Sigma 1916 voted on an aspect of the settlement proposal that would affect the board’s composition, Alpha Omicron Pi volunteer alumna Laura Sherr said. The results of the vote may become available in the next week.

According to Alpha Omicron Pi, Sigma 1916 is the only one of 135 housing corporations within Alpha Omicron Pi yet to comply with the 2005 directive and transition to coordinated property management.

According to Jaeger’s email, since the directive was implemented, Alpha Omicron Pi had sold houses at chapters nationwide including properties at the University of Arizona, Cornell University and UC Davis. When sold, these properties had not been housing active chapters, according to Boison.

The two parties attempted in 2013 to reach an agreement through mediation but were ultimately unsuccessful. Despite this, Boison said in an email, both sides have been engaging in interactive webinars and chapter visits.

“We owe it to one another, our founders … and most importantly our current chapter members, to resolve this conflict peacefully without putting the current chapter in peril,” said Margaret Tracy, a UC Berkeley and Alpha Omicron Pi alumna, in a letter to Alpha Omicron Pi.

Contact Alex Barreira at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @abarreira_dc.sue