About a dozen College Park residents met with city and Prince George's County officials last week to protest the establishment of what they described as an off-campus fraternity house by a group of University of Maryland students without county or city approval. It was the latest in a series of neighborhood protests in College Park over fraternity houses and the activities of fraternity members.
The residents asked county zoning officials to enforce a 1983 zoning law requiring groups to obtain special zoning exceptions before using residential facilities as fraternity or sorority houses. The house in question, at 7408 Rhode Island Ave., is rented by 24 members of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity and two nonmembers.
The fraternal chapter was established on campus in 1981, and members began moving into the house about a year ago. Three other fraternities houses are on the same block, as are a number of sororities.
Joseph Bowen, chairman of the local TKE board of trustees, said that because TKE does not own the house, his board does not currently recognize it as an official fraternity facility.
County zoning inspections supervisor George Biernesser said the county also does not consider the house a fraternity, having classified it as an apartment building because it contains rental units.
Biernesser said the 1983 law requiring zoning exceptions applies only to fraternity houses in residential areas, while the property in question is commercially zoned.
But if the building is designated an official fraternity house, it would be in violation of another part of the law banning fraternities and sororities in commercial zones, he said.
Residents and city officals contend that the house, which bears a TKE sign, is a legitimate fraternity.
"If an organization acts like a fraternity and says it's a fraternity, then it's a fraternity," said Mayor Alvin Kushner. "I think the zoning people have chosen to shut their eyes about this."
James Nagel, whose house is adjacent to the fraternity facility, presented an anti-TKE petition to city officials. He complained that fraternity members have kicked in his fence, thrown bottles in his swimming pool, thrown trash in his yard and held loud parties.
Bowen denied the charges and said the fraternity is no louder than any other in the neighborhood.
College Park residents are "fed up with fraternities," Nagel told officials. "I think they'd be happy to see them all closed or moved up near university president John Toll's house," Nagel said.