Party-house worries emerge in more neighborhoods

Apr. 18, 2014 @ 06:16 PM

A new coalition of neighborhood groups wants city and Duke University officials to clamp down on Duke’s off-campus party house scene, by cooperating with them in writing a formal protocol to respond to complaints.

The pressure is coming from residents of the Burch Avenue, Morehead Hill, Tuscaloosa-Lakewood and Trinity Park neighborhoods, most of whom report major problems with student-related drinking, noise, litter and traffic.

The issue isn’t new, and part of the “frustration in Trinity Park is sort of the ‘Groundhog Day’ frustration every time [a student-rented] house turns over of training people to be good neighbors,” said Philip Azar, a Trinity Park activist and Inter-Neighborhood Council vice president. “They feel it’s not a reasonable expectation to have to do that year after year after year.”

Azar’s comments came during a meeting Thursday at the Community Family Life & Recreation Center at Lyon Park among neighborhood leaders, Duke administrators and city officials.

Police Department District 3 Capt. David Addison attended at the behest of City Councilman Steve Schewel and pledged that his subordinates will do a better job in the future of relaying word about off-campus incidents to Duke’s student-affairs office.

The party-house issue is indeed old hat to neighborhoods that, like Trinity Park, border Duke’s East Campus.

A round of meetings in 2008 and 2009 between city and Duke officials and the nearby Trinity Heights neighborhood ended with a pledge by Duke President Richard Brodhead that campus police would keep a closer eye on the behavior of students there.

Now, the complaints are surfacing in neighborhoods south of the Durham Freeway, around but not necessarily adjacent to Duke’s West Campus.

No matter the location, the substance of the complaints hasn’t changed.

Morehead Hill resident David Ball lives near an apparent party house in the Vickers Avenue area and said “the scariest things” he’s seen involve drinking.

“One time I got up at 2 in morning, and there was a very young, very mini-skirted young woman completely passed out on my front lawn,” he recalled.

Far more worrisome are “the kids in SUVs rocketing out of Parker Street backwards and going up Vickers Avenue” or onto the freeway while they’re obviously drunk, Ball said.

“Obviously, that can be catastrophic,” he said, adding that it’s “only a matter of luck” there hasn’t been a major accident.

The noise issue is front-and-center for other residents, be it from amplified music or even the racket that comes as a party breaks up and students board buses and taxis to head back to campus.

A Vickers Avenue resident, Loralie Bible, recalled having to get up at 3 a.m. one time, while seven months’ pregnant, to confront and try to hush partiers who were making too much noise.

“I like having the students in the neighborhood; there’s lots of ways it’s positive, I like having people in and out at different times,” she said. “But I don’t like being woken up.”

The same thing’s happening in the Burch Avenue neighborhood, resident and meeting organizer Alisa Johnson said.

“You can imagine loud. What you can imagine needs to be magnified by 10,” she said.

Johnson added that “for some people who’ve been dealing with this for years, this isn’t funny. They feel powerless.”

Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek headed up Duke’s delegation at the meeting. She said that while her office routinely hears from Duke police when students get in trouble, hasn’t been getting such reports from Durham police.

Wasiolek said students have to follow Duke’s code of conduct “regardless of where they’re living.”

But they “as citizens of Durham and this country … have a right to give their side of the story and to be heard” if a complaint triggers the campus disciplinary process, she said.

“That’s as it should be,” Ball responded.

Addison encouraged meeting participants to formalize their expectations and intended practices.

It would be “nice if residents and Duke sat down and said [to students] this is what we’re willing to take, and if you exceed this threshold, there will be consequences,” he said.

He added that city police, when summoned, will ticket people for any violations of the law they observe. But he plainly saw that as a second-best solution, prevention being the better option.

“Unfortunately, when we get involved, we have to handle business,” Addison said.