GORHAM – The town of Gorham is seizing possession of a rundown fraternity house in a downtown residential neighborhood.
The property at 27 Preble St. has been home of the Gamma Omega of Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity.
“We have multiple years of foreclosed tax liens,” Gorham Town Manager David Cole said Wednesday.
Cole, who said the town now owns the property, said, the fraternity owed the town $26,937.21 in taxes as of May 20.
The town’s lawyer, William Dale, sent a letter June 4 to Brian Longfellow, president of Gamma Omega of Phi Kappa Sigma, at a Pensacola, Fla., address informing fraternity house residents to vacate the property by Friday, July 30.
Robert Caswell, University of Southern Maine spokesman, said Tuesday the fraternity house is independently owned and operated . Caswell said Longfellow was out of state Tuesday.
“He said he’s not interested in talking” about the housing problem, Caswell said.
A man answering the phone Wednesday at Phi Kappa Sigma International Fraternity in Chester Springs, Penn., said, “We have no comment at this time.”
A measure to endorse taking possession of the property is on the Gorham Town Council agenda at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 22, at the Gorham Municipal Center, 75 South St.
“It’s too bad, but the town is certainly within rights to take possession of the property,” Caswell said.
The assessed value of the property is $258,900. The two-story house has 15 rooms, including nine bedrooms and five bathrooms, according to town tax records.
“The property has deteriorated and is in fairly poor condition,” Cole said.
A recent town inspection of the property, which also indicates the house has a bar room, revealed multiple violations including raw sewage “coming up from floor” in basement.
The Town Council’s order also includes that Cole takes steps to protect the town’s property and the public’s health and welfare. Cole said violations at the house are not a threat to neighbors.
Cole said the property had been shut down several years ago because of code violations and was forced to be brought up to standards.
Gamma Omega Phi Kappa Sigma is one of three off-campus fraternity houses, along with a former sorority house where several co-eds reside in Gorham’s downtown. Behavior of university students has been an ongoing issue with the town. University officials have held a series of neighborhood meetings with residents, students, fraternity members and police in an effort to quiet rowdy student behavior.
One Elm Street neighbor of the Gamma Omega Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity house said Tuesday there has been marked improvement this year in the behavior of the students.
“They’ve made a major improvement this year in comparison to the past number of years,” Peter Wentworth said. “No question, they have not been bad neighbors this year.”
Wentworth has owned his property at the corner of Elm and Preble streets for 30 years.
“For a number of years, it was difficult bringing a family up here,” he said. “It’s not the right location for these fraternities,” Wentworth said about the neighborhood.
An unidentified man in the side yard at Gamma Omega Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity house Tuesday said 10 residents are living there now.
“We presume residents will be cooperative and vacate in a timely fashion,” Cole said.
Caswell said the university will reach out to the fraternity members, who are living in the house currently, and to those who are planning to reside there, to offer assistance to find other housing.
“Its too bad its come to this,” Caswell said, “but they obviously need to face the same consequences as any other property owner in the town of Gorham.”
According to online town tax records, 27 Preble St. had been owned by Gamma Omega of Phi Kappa Sigma Inc., since 2003.
In his letter, Dale cited four matured real property tax liens for municipal tax years 2004-2005, 2005-2006, 2006-2007, and 2007-2008. Cole said the most recent tax payment was a small one in October.
On June 2, Gorham Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre, Deputy Fire Chief Ken Fickett and Code Enforcement Officer David Twomey inspected the property. Cole said a long list of concerns and violations in the report included roof repair, holes in walls, trash, a rotten bedroom floor, electrical issues, a toilet not installed to code, plumbing leaking from first floor into the basement and asbestos on old basement pipes.
Dale’s letter to Longfellow warned, “This property, both land and building, is now owned by the Town of Gorham, and as such, you will be held legally responsible for any damage done to either the land or the building as you vacate the premises.”
The town hasn’t determined what it would do with the former fraternity house, Cole said.