Greek Drama

In the West University neighborhood, the battle between a fraternity and the neighborhood association continues

Members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, and some of residents living near its chapter house, want the organization out of the West University neighborhood. While residents hope that happens quickly, the Greeks say they need more time.

Established at the UA in 1947, the chapter dwindled in membership until four years ago, when it was reinvigorated. A search for a structure to house 12 of its 20 members was launched; the result was a large, historic, single-family home located at University Boulevard and Second Avenue. The house was purchased by a generous alumnus, but because of regulations concerning off-campus locations, the house could only be officially recognized by the university with backing from the neighborhood association.

"During the purchase phase," says fraternity member Patrick Brennan, "we were told the neighborhood association probably wouldn't support (our recognition). But it is a really nice house." Brennan notes that it isn't the first time the house has been home to a frat; several decades ago, the house belonged to another fraternity.

Four fraternal organizations have continually existed in the West University area for many years, occasionally supplemented by some "outlaw" or "satellite" houses. Because of that, the neighborhood association has traditionally opposed the establishment of any new fraternities.

Referring to the association's policy concerning fraternities, resident John Patterson says, "I commend the university for requiring neighborhood recognition (of off-campus Greek houses). But each year brings new challenges." Of the Phi Kappa Psi case, Patterson adds, "We didn't want to change the neighborhood policy. It's important to hold the line."

The neighborhood association turned down the fraternity's request for university recognition in 2003, a position it reiterated last year.

But that didn't stop the fraternity from moving into the neighborhood 18 months ago, and initial relations between the college students and those living around them weren't good (See "Wild 'Cats," Oct. 16, 2003). The police visited on a few occasions, and the house was once red-tagged due to a loud party.

At that time, next door neighbor Peter Wilke described the house as, "really, really loud four nights in a row at 3 a.m." Wilke has since moved, he says, because of the problems. His residence is rented now, but he indicates he'd move back if the fraternity left.

Brennan and former chapter president C.J. Calkins, however, insist things have changed. They say they are frustrated by the neighborhood's unwillingness to, in their words, "compromise."

"I think we've been great neighbors," Brennan says.

Adds Calkins, "We haven't caused lots of problems in the neighborhood. The police haven't shown up in a year."

Calkins also lists good deeds done by fraternity members. "We helped out on two neighborhood cleanups," he remembers, "attended most association meetings to see if we can help, and been on their home tour."

Both men emphasize they understand the neighbors' concerns about Greek houses. Despite that, they are stymied by the association's position, and would like to see the university's policy on recognition changed.

"I don't think the neighborhood will ever give us a chance," Calkins says. "They just say no." Based on that, he believes recognition should be strictly up to the university, or that the university should permit some sort of probationary period.

Even without recognition, the fraternity now has almost 60 members. Given that growth, it has been looking into building a new house in the University Village on campus, an undertaking Brennan is heading.

Brennan says that if the fraternity was recognized now, it could hold rush recruitment activities at its house instead of in a classroom. That, he says, would allow it to grow even faster, which would permit it to build on campus sooner.

"Not being recognized is keeping us from moving out of the neighborhood," Calkins says, adding that it could take four years for the relocation to occur. "We're in an odd situation."

In 1992, a plan was prepared for the University Village, which comprises the multi-block campus area between Campbell and Mountain avenues, and Speedway Boulevard and Second Street. At that time, 18 fraternities or sororities were located within the district, and the plan recommended "... the infill development of 10-12 Greek chapter houses."

After more than a dozen years, some new houses have been built, but others have been moved. Thus, according to Gary Ballinger, the UA's Coordinator of Greek Life Programs, 17 houses currently exist in the University village.

At the time the plan was prepared, university officials also expressed the hope that existing off-campus houses would be relocated to the village. But that hasn't happened in the West University neighborhood.

Despite the failure to move any of his neighborhood's fraternities onto campus, Patterson is charitable with his comments concerning the university's follow-up. "I'd grade them an incomplete," he says, adding that the city of Tucson's red-tag policy is the most powerful tool for keeping tabs on Greek houses.

From his perspective, Brennan understands how campus neighbors might be upset with the lack of progress toward moving Greeks into the village. He also cites problems with the process, such as the high cost of development along with priority given to parking lots and other campus functions instead of fraternities and sororities.

"I think the West University Neighborhood Association has the right to be frustrated with the university," he says. "Greek houses have been forced to move into neighborhoods, because they can't afford to be on campus. I don't think the university is being too discouraging (about moving), but the infrastructure is not in place."

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