70 units: Big plans for KappaSig spot


How many lawsuits does it take to sell a frat house? If the house is Kenridge, and the fraternity is Kappa Sigma, the answer is "a bunch."

Just a year after the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the big house on Ivy Road belonged to the nonprofit Kappa Sigma Memorial Foundation– and not to the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, which had used the home as its headquarters for nearly 40 years– there's a plan afoot to add 70 housing units to the property. But the Fraternity's legal motions keep coming, preventing the sale from closing.

"My understanding is that the litigation is ongoing," says Mitchell Wilson, executive director of Kappa Sigma Fraternity, referring the Hook to the Fraternity's D.C.-based attorney, Adam Apatoff, who did not immediately return calls.

Foundation attorney Craig Wood says the Fraternity's latest suit claimed "adverse possession," a legal term for longtime squatting.

Wood says Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Paul Peatross ruled against that particular legal theory in an order entered March 22; the Fraternity has 30 days to appeal.

While the relationship between fraternity brothers bogged down in acrimony and litigation, it certainly wasn't always so.

In fact, in the beginning– back in 1965– the brotherly love flowed as freely as cold beer from a keg.

That was the year a Kappa Sigma named Richard Miller arrived in Charlottesville from his Texas home to establish his beloved fraternity's national headquarters in Charlottesville, where "Kappa Sig" had been founded back in 1869 by UVA Lawn resident William McCormick and four friends.

Within months, Miller had plunked down $175,000 for the 1922 estate, and the Fraternity moved in, as did the Foundation (then called Kappa Sigma Inc.), the organization Miller helped found.

The relationship between the two organizations was rosy until 2000. The Fraternity occupied the 17-acre estate essentially rent-free in exchange for maintaining the property. But in the late 1990s, the Foundation learned its nonprofit status could be at risk if it did not charge market rent to its tenant, the Fraternity.

The Fraternity balked, and on May 4, 2001 in Albemarle County Circuit Court, sued to retake the house, claiming the Foundation had been created by the Fraternity solely to manage Kenridge for the Fraternity. Without the Fraternity's blessing, the suit claimed, the Foundation had no legal basis for existing.

The Foundation counter-sued, and the two duked it out all the way to the Supreme Court.

After the high court ruled in its favor, the Foundation moved ahead with plans to sell the property and to use the proceeds of the sale for its endowment, drained by more than $1 million in legal fees.

The would-be buyers? "Several local investors," says attorney Steve Blaine of the LeClair Ryan law firm, who's representing those buyers, operating as Kenridge LLC.

Kenridge LLC has big plans for the Farmington-hugging property, assessed in 2003 for $5.5 million: single family homes and luxury townhouses 70 units in all. The group is seeking a special use permit from Albemarle County.

Blaine says the most exciting part of the project is the restoration of the manor home to its original use as a single family dwelling. Plans also call for the preservation of a 1940s carriage house. However, the Kappa Sigma auditorium, built in the late 1960s and host to everything from Boy Scout conventions to piano recitals– will not be so fortunate.

"It doesn't have historic significance," says Blaine.

The plan would preserve all of the area in front of the main house– four and a half acres– as green space. A main entrance to the new development would be created across from Birdwood Golf Course, and an access road would allow residents of both the Kenridge Development and the White Gables condo community next-door to drive across the front edge of the property.

The prices on the new Kenridge homes? Blaine will only say "upscale," citing the successful sales of the White Gables condos which start in the mid $300s and top $1 million.

As for the property's purchase price, Blaine's keeping mum. "You'll be able to figure that one out at closing," he says, which he hopes will happen sometime this summer to allow construction to begin in the fall.

Meanwhile, despite its latest lawsuit, the Fraternity has broken ground on its new Kappa Sigma International Headquarters, a brick mansion on eight acres off Route 20 near Carter's Mountain.

Bill Waters, director of development for the Kappa Sigma Endowment Fund, says the Fraternity has raised about half of the $10 million it hopes to raise for the project, and construction will begin in the next several weeks, with a planned completion in July 2006.

Despite the litigation, Ted Lange, director of fundraising for the fraternity, says he still feels a strong bond with his fraternity– and he hopes to enjoy the new headquarters someday.

"I want it to be a nice place," he says. "I want it to be excellent."

Waters has good news for him.

"We're going to have the finest headquarters in the fraternal world," he says.

It's something the two can agree on, anyway. But it may be a while before they'll be clinking julep tumblers on the verandah.

"Common sense is that time heals," says Lange. "But a lot of things would have to be agreed on."

Kenridge: Under contract