Durham residents propose solution

Options may sting Duke partyers

Staff WriterFebruary 8, 2005 

The keggers in Trinity Park likely would run dry if the party poopers get control of the party houses.

A dozen Trinity Park neighbors, fed up with the drunken antics of Duke University students, have secured options to buy four problem properties on North Buchanan Boulevard. The seller: local landlord Guy Solie, whom they've been bad-mouthing for years.

Linda Wilson, a former elementary schoolteacher who helped organize the group and signed the options on its behalf, said neighbors hope to break even on the investment by reselling the properties to families. She declined to discuss the specific purchase price, saying only it's "a ton."

The group, representing all income levels, is asking people to invest what they can afford, Wilson said. Some investors might consider tapping savings accounts, digging under mattresses or taking out a second mortgage, she said. Another possibility is applying for a bank loan.

"It's just such a difficult problem," she said. "The kids want a place to party, the university doesn't want them on campus, we don't want them in the neighborhood."

Most of the 15 noisiest addresses in the Trinity Park and Trinity Heights neighborhoods bordering Duke's East Campus are operating as fraternities, say Durham police, who have responded to more than 200 noise and alcohol complaints at the addresses during the past five years.

Although six properties have zoning that would permit a fraternity given the proper approvals, only 708 N. Buchanan Blvd. is legally grandfathered for such a use, said Frank Duke, city-county planning director. Neighbors have tried unsuccessfully to get zoning inspectors to shut down the house. Now, they're attempting to buy it, Solie said.

Neither Solie nor Wilson would confirm the other addresses, but 702, 704 and 710 N. Buchanan Blvd. all rank among the worst offenders, according to a neighborhood list.

Meanwhile, after one Buchanan bash involving bikini-clad women wrestling in baby oil made national headlines, Duke University officials say federal privacy guidelines prevent them from commenting on any action taken against students who have been cited by police at off-campus parties.

At the same time, a coalition of neighbors, university officials and students has organized under the aim of preventing binge drinking and promoting a healthier, safer campus culture. Among other goals, BlueSPARC likely will work to streamline the on-campus party registration process, making it easier for students to hold parties on Duke property, said Claire Feldman-Riordan, the group's organizer.

Even if neighbors buy all four properties, they'll likely have to play landlord for at least an academic year to students who signed leases in advance, Solie said. Solie, the president of Trinity Properties, has nine properties in the neighborhood for sale and a few interested buyers in addition to the neighborhood coalition. The prices are "reasonable," he said, more akin to "retail" than "wholesale."

"I would love if they would buy them all," he said of the neighbors, adding that he gave the group an extension after its initial option expired in January. All of the houses are "in real good shape," he said. Wilson declined to comment on the condition of the properties, saying Solie made her sign a nondisclosure statement before taking a tour.

Wilson, 60, lives with her husband, a scientist who studies the effects of mind-altering substances, in a century-old home on Watts Street. She has heard doors slamming at all hours of the night and women screaming either a cry for help or an "Oh, my goodness, I'm having such a good time!"

It's unclear how long it will take Wilson and the rest of the group, including a doctor, a banker and a contractor, to come up with the money. But if the deal goes through, Wilson said, the properties could have a covenant attached that would prevent fraternities from ever locating there again.

(Staff writer Janell Ross contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Margie Fishman can be reached at 956-2405 or mfishman@newsobserver.com.

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