For years the residents of the neighborhood around fraternity row at the University of Utah have complained about the noise, loud music and drunken partying at the fraternity houses.
Now they say they have the solution: ban alcohol there completely.The residents say no effective solution to the problem has been found. University administrators admonish, city police enforce, fraternity members promise reform, but essentially nothing changes. Even after an altercation some termed a riot in 1987, spurring zoning ordinance changes and switching weekend enforcement from university to city police, the problems continued.
Seventy-seven residents have signed and sent a petition to the City Council proposing the alcohol ban.
"Nationwide, many universities and Greek houses have in the recent past chosen to become alcohol free," said Bruce Maak, attorney for the neighbors, in a letter to City Council Chairman Keith Christensen. "Experience and common sense dictate that any measure short of requiring that the fraternities be alcohol free is destined to continue the dismal tradition of failed efforts to address this problem."
Cherry Ridges, Greek coordinator with the U., characterizes the issue as one between the neighbors and City Council. While the U. takes some supervisory responsibility for fraternities, fraternity houses are located on private land and are private residences. She said zoning that regulates alcohol in private residences raises civil liberties issues.
While the area residents have been gathering names on a petition in support of an alcohol ban, she said the fraternities have been implementing self-policing activities. The students have been frustrated that the residents have not recognized those efforts, Ridges said.
Residents hope the fraternities voluntarily ban alcohol as the university sororities have done. If they don't, itwould be up to the city to ban alcohol, but that may be legally problematic.
"The city has authority under its police powers to limit alcohol in certain locations," said deputy city attorney Lynn Pace. "With regard to the details here, though, I'm not sure."
The city can define what constitutes a nuisance, and Pace said loud partying late at night could certainly be reasonably construed as such. However, whether banning alcohol as the legal cause of the nuisance could be done is a little more iffy.
In his letter, Maak focused on the problem of underage drinking at the fraternity houses, where under-21 and over-21 people congregate and mix freely, saying a ban was the only way to enforce the age- limit law.
However, that tack is only a means to the end of getting rid of the noise and disturbances.
Maak said police are simply unable to enforce noise and drinking ordinances since the offensive behavior is sporadic and difficult to monitor continuously.
"So long as any fraternity members are entitled to use alcohol, then alcohol will be widely consumed, and its antisocial effects will be felt by the neighbors," Maak wrote.
It remains to be seen how the City Council will react to the petition.
In 1987, the city passed a zoning ordinance that outlined acceptable behavior in fraternities. Violations of the zoning ordinance result in citations or referrals to the Greek Council Judiciary.
Under new federal legislation, colleges can release information about violations of underage drinking to parents. Utah State University recently announced it would begin reporting underage drinking to parents. The U. does not currently report underage drinking violators to parents.