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'Greek Row' meeting turns into a skirmish

An evening billed as a night of problem solving for feuding Federal Heights neighbors and college students living on Salt Lake City's "Greek Row" deteriorated into a war of words that ended with little, if anything, resolved.

At meeting's end Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson scolded the neighbors and members of the University of Utah's fraternities and sororities and called Monday's bickering a waste of time.

"We're not any closer (to a solution) than when we walked in," Anderson told the crowd of more than 200.

The mayor's office had organized the meeting at the St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center, 170 S. University St. — a Catholic church parish just off campus about a block from Greek Row — to create a permanent solution to the long-standing dispute between some Federal Heights residents and about a dozen nearby sororities and fraternities.

The residents, who live in the upscale community just north of the U. campus, complain about noise, vulgarity, trash and vandalism and say their grievances fall on deaf ears at the U. The Greeks, in turn, feel singled out and belittled.

Nancy Huntsman, a longtime critic of the Greeks, cited an incident involving 40 fraternity members who shouted an "extremely vulgar rape chant" from their frat house one evening.

"The university's response to these events has been timid at best," she said. "The university has only had window dressing and the fraternities have not addressed it."

Anderson said he hoped the meeting could curb possible legal action from residents such as Huntsman who have threatened to file nuisance abatement actions against the Greeks. Since nothing was accomplished Monday, a smaller group of fraternal leaders, neighbors on both sides of the issue, the U. and the city will meet and deliver a plan in another meeting before the school year ends in April.

Some fraternal leaders complained that some 400 packets, which included a litany of police responses to Greek Row, that the mayor's office mailed announcing the meeting were unfair, since many police responses occurred after students reported crimes in the area, said Steven Jones, president of the Interfraternity Council.

Anderson apologized for the mailings and admitted they were misleading.

In fact, many wondered why the mayor's office even bothered to mail the packets or call the meeting at all since things have seemingly been better lately on Greek Row.

U. spokesman Fred Esplin noted that the number of alcohol-related citations on Greek Row has decreased from 212 in 1990 to 14 in 2000. The area is Salt Lake's most patrolled neighborhood, since the U. and fraternal organizations pay for extra police presence, he said. Anderson himself noted that his office had received complaints from a mere 10 to 12 residents, and many Federal Heights residents at the meeting Monday voiced support for their younger neighbors.

"I personally love living in the area. I love the energy and I love the young people," Federal Heights resident Trace Sweeten said. "I would not move next to 700 East and expect it to be closed down if I thought it was noisy."