1/01/2008

Eminent Domain Could be Used on Alpha Drive


By Matt Culbertson

ASU [Arizona State University] could enact eminent domain to demolish fraternity housing on Alpha Drive and replace it with residence halls, according to an ASU official and sources close to the project.

The University is "prepared to aggressively work toward a negotiated agreement" to demolish and rebuild Alpha Drive, said Carol Campbell, ASU chief financial officer, in a Nov. 12 letter to Alpha Drive representatives and University officials.

"It was obvious what she was threatening," said Jeff Abraham, a spokesperson for the Alpha Drive property owners. "It is certainly our hope that we don't get to a point where eminent domain is required, but it is something the University will keep in its back pocket."

Eminent domain is a term that describes the state's power to appropriate property to be used by the public.

ASU has the power of eminent domain with approval of the Arizona Board of Regents — who govern the state universities — and for educational or university purposes, Campbell said.

"I'm not saying we'd exercise (eminent domain) in this case," Campbell said. "We have used it in other instances to assemble land that was needed."

Campbell said the project would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, though it would depend on what was agreed upon.

The Nov. 12 letter was the first time ASU officially stated that the project would replace the fraternity houses with residential properties under control of ASU, Abraham said.

But ASU had hinted before the letter that their preference was to house Alpha Drive fraternities in University-controlled housing, he added.

The letter also marked the first time ASU suggested eminent domain in writing, but the threat had been hinted at before, Abraham said.

Abraham said he could not provide the letter.

But the letter was obtained by The State Press on Monday from another source close to the project who wished to remain anonymous.

In the letter, Campbell said, "It is imperative that all housing supporting the Greek system be within the University's residential housing programs and be governed by its regulations and support structures."

Davey Breitman, the newly-elected Interfraternity Council President, said about 300 fraternity members currently live on Alpha Drive, and about 725 fraternity members are part of the Alpha Drive houses.

"Basically, nothing's official yet," Breitman said. "After discussing the matter with members from every Alpha Drive fraternity, I can wholeheartedly say that there is tremendous support to continue the status quo of Alpha Drive living."

Breitman said eminent domain is not the best option for ASU, and neither is implementing Residence Hall policies for fraternity housing.

The letter offered the fraternities the option of a land exchange.

"The one option that (Campbell) has presented is that the fraternities exchange their six acres for another six acres within the site," Abraham said. "That one way is nowhere close to what the fraternities originally presented with the Threshold Project concept."

The "Threshold Project" is the name given to the original proposal by the fraternity property owners to rebuild Alpha Drive, which was first presented to ASU President Michael Crow in 2004.

The San Diego-based Pierce Company was originally chosen by the fraternity property holders to develop new fraternity housing after Alpha Drive was demolished, but another developer, American Campus Communities, would be the sole developer of any student housing, Campbell said in the letter.

"This comes as a shock," said Andrew Burns, the treasurer for the alumni board of Sigma Phi Epsilon and a 2001 ASU graduate.

Burns said he only could speak for Sigma Phi Epsilon, and not the other fraternities.

"ASU, to sum it up, is saying 'we are essentially going to redevelop that land, and we're going to redevelop that land with ASU, you can either give it up, or have a little bit of input,'" he added. "We understand (Alpha Drive) is run down, we understand the crime rate is high.

"We want to protect the Greek system."

Breitman said he had gotten "tremendous feedback" from many of his constituents who oppose the project.

"Residence style living would not be in the best interest of fraternities on campus," Breitman said. "I believe it would hurt recruitment, as well as our ability to function in day to day operations."



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