Zoning board rules against fraternity

Phi Kappa Psi can't stay in city neighborhood

April 18, 2007|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN REPORTER

Tuscany-Canterbury's long-standing aggravation with the lone fraternity house in its midst has come to an end, Baltimore's zoning board ruled last night.

Phi Kappa Psi, among the last of the Johns Hopkins University's Greeks with a true fraternity house, has lost the right to remain in the mansion at 3906 Canterbury Road, its home for about 30 years.

The zoning board unanimously agreed, after a heated two-hour hearing, that the fraternity cannot remain grandfathered in the residential neighborhood after it vacated the property for more than a year to fix a laundry list of code violations.

The news thrilled neighbors, who had complained that the fraternity kept them awake with late-night music, dirtied their streets and had them calling the police about rowdy parties.

"I'm delighted with the result, and I think that it would be good if the fraternity evaluated their options and sold the property," said John H. Denick, the neighborhood association's attorney, adding that it is a shame that the university did not do a better job policing the Greek system - and did not bother to show up at the hearing yesterday.

"The young men we were dealing with were polite and well-intentioned," he said, "yet they would not have been the people on site overseeing the fraternity."

Herbert Burgunder III, Phi Psi's attorney, said the brothers might appeal the ruling.

"I'm disappointed that the fraternity's efforts to keep this long-standing use [were] denied," he said. "The fraternity will consider its options ... which include appealing or selling the property."

Neighbors worry that an appeal would keep the house - which has fallen into disrepair - vacant. The nearly 7,000-square-foot, three-story structure, built in 1920 as a boardinghouse, typically sleeps about 25 fraternity members. It is assessed at more than $1 million.

The hearing went on for hours, thanks to vigorous objections and lengthy cross-examinations from both sides. City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, there to support the neighborhood, exclaimed at one point, "What is this, the Supreme Court - it's a frat house."

Burgunder said - and one board member agreed - that it is not the zoning board's job "to punish kids for bad behavior."

But about 10 neighbors implored the zoning board to help them put an end to what one called a "public nuisance" and another called "years of ongoing persistent annoyance, irritation, aggravation and the like."

"One fellow was so emboldened or inebriated that he challenged the driver of a car to run over him," testified Ralph Kurtz, who lives across the road from the fraternity. "This was bizarro behavior but hardly exceptional."

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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