Living next to University of Maryland fraternity members is "like living next to a zoo," in the view of James Nagel, who has lived on College Avenue in College Park for 16 years.
Students blast rock music at all hours, play football on his lawn, throw parties that turn into "drunken brawls," and use the area behind his home "as a public urinal," Nagel charges. He says Prince George's County police have broken up several loud parties next door after he complained, and he is also seeking an injunction against the use of the property by fraternity members.
Complaints from College Park residents about student behavior are not uncommon, said Prince George's County police spokesman Dave Mitchell.
"It's a definite issue," he said. Most complaints, like Nagel's, are about excessive noise levels at parties, parking problems created by the parties or students urinating on lawns, Mitchell said.
College Park Mayor Alvin Kushner, whose office receives several complaints a week about student behavior, says such conflicts are to be expected.
"Students are noisier, and come and go later than most folks," he said. "They just have different life styles. But for the person who has to get up at 6 a.m. to go to work, and has to hear rock music blasted until all hours of the morning, it's hard to be civil."
Recently, in an attempt to soothe the tensions that sometimes result from the conflicting interests of residents and students, officials of the city and the university have created a 12-member "civility commission" composed of city residents, faculty members and students.
The commission, which university Chancellor John B. Slaughter described as the first of its kind in the nation, will try to devise a code of conduct for students and residents and will set up guidelines for mediating disputes between the two groups.
Slaughter's executive assistant, Joseph Gilmour, said the commission was not formed in response to a specific incident, but "came out of a recognition that this was an ongoing problem." He said it was suggested at a meeting of a liaison committee set up a number of years ago by city and university officials.
Formation of the commission is the third step taken this month aimed at resolving disputes between students and city residents.
Two weeks ago, the College Park City Council passed an ordinance restricting noise levels, and last week, the Prince George's County Council passed a bill -- sponsored by James Herl, who represents College Park -- instituting $50 fines for urinating or defecating in public.
The previous law provided for a jail sentence if convicted, but no fine.
Both recent actions were taken largely because of complaints about student behavior, officials said.
College Park Mayor Alvin Kushner, who worked with Slaughter to form the civility commission, acknowledged that relations between students and residents have not always been smooth, but said this is common in "town-gown" relationships, "especially when the campus population is almost twice as large as the town population."
There are more than 45,000 people on campus during the day, while the city's population is just over 24,000.
While the civility commission will have no formal powers, members -- four students, four faculty members and four city residents -- were optimistic about its chances for success.
"This is a means to open lines of communication," said Del. Pauline Menes (D-Prince George's), who lives in College Park and is acting moderator of the commission. "It gives each side the opportunity to talk it out."
Commission member Mark Williams, president of the University Commuters Association, which represents off-campus students, agreed.
"One of the biggest problems is communication, getting people to sit down and talk about the problem," he said. "Some residents who have lived here all their lives feel threatened by students, but don't have any outlet other than calling the police." The commission should provide "some sort of structured mediation," he said.
Others were less convinced about the commission's value.
Nagel said he views the creation of a commission with "great skepticism. They'll hash and rehash and regurgitate, but nothing will come of it."
"We don't need another commission," Nagel said. "What we need is our own police force, so we can do something about the vandalism and obscene behavior of these supposedly mature young men and women." Complaints about off-campus incidents are currently referred to county police.
Kimberly Rice, president of the university's Student Government Association, also expressed doubts.
"I think it will backfire," she said. "Students are not going to appreciate people in the commission trying to be their baby sitters. They are adults and they are not going to change their behavior because Chancellor Slaughter or anyone else tells them to.
"Once students are outside the university, the university has no right to tell them what to do."
Rice, who said the university tried unsuccessfully to write a code of conduct for student behavior last year, said the SGA was not consulted before the commission was formed.
Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge Howard Chasanow, a resident of College Park, said he and his fellow committee members are aware of the potential pitfalls involved in trying to devise a code of conduct. "We know we can't get too specific," he said, but "we don't want to just invoke the golden rule about doing unto others."
The idea, said Chasanow, is to "make people more aware of the effect of their conduct on others -- the rights of others, if you will."