University of Tampa's neighbors upset with off-campus house parties

For two years, homeowners in Tampa's West Riverfront have complained to city officials.

Last week, a West Riverfront neighborhood representative met with UT administrators, students and others, as well as police, and turned over tag numbers of cars parked at the party houses. Times files (2009)
Last week, a West Riverfront neighborhood representative met with UT administrators, students and others, as well as police, and turned over tag numbers of cars parked at the party houses.Times files (2009)
Published October 6 2013

TAMPA — Fall classes are back in session at the University of Tampa and so are the off-campus house parties, much to the chagrin of residents in West Riverfront.

"If you've ever been to Mardi Gras or any other place where there are hundreds of people on the street, it's like our street," said Dr. Lois Miles, a pediatrician who lives about a block from a W Nassau Street house known for its parties.

This is the second year that homeowners in West Riverfront, a middle-class neighborhood just north of UT's campus, have complained to city officials about the parties.

On weekend nights, Miles said, lines of taxicabs 10 deep drop off partygoers starting around 10:30 p.m. Young adults yell and scream as they walk through the neighborhood and leave yards littered with beer cans and bottles.

Standing in a neighbor's yard around midnight on Aug. 31, Miles saw a young man wander into her carport and begin urinating next to her car. When she confronted him, he went to a neighbor's house and resumed urinating.

"It's outrageous," said Miles, who described the incident in a recent letter to Police Chief Jane Castor. Two other houses, another on Nassau and one on W Arch Street, also have hosted boisterous student parties, Miles said, though 1311 W Nassau St. was the one she focused on in her complaint to the city.

One of the biggest parties took place the weekend before the fall term started.

Shortly after midnight on Aug. 22, police dispersed a crowd from 1311 W Nassau after getting a complaint that about 200 people were in the street making a lot of noise.

Jonathan Taylor, one of three University of Tampa students who live at the house, acknowledged Friday that things got out of hand that night.

The three pay $950 a month to rent the two-bedroom house, which had different tenants last year but was known even then for its rowdy parties. Some students simply call it "the Nassau house."

"That one, honestly, we didn't know it was going to get so big," said Taylor, 19, a sophomore from Palm Beach Gardens who is studying entrepreneurship and business management. "We only wanted to have about 30 people over and hordes of kids showed up."

Sonia Polite, who lives next door to Taylor, said it was a remarkable scene. At one point, she looked out her bathroom window and saw a young woman apparently trying to leave the party by climbing over the fence in her back yard.

"That was when we definitely noticed this house's reputation hasn't died," Taylor said. "What we're trying to do is start a new reputation. We're not going to be the house for parties anymore. We're just a group of guys going to school."

Taylor said he and his housemates have apologized to neighbors for something that was "definitely unfair to our neighbors and community."

"We're trying to be a part of this community," he said. Toward that end, they have given neighbors their cell phone numbers, reduced the number of parties they host and limited guests only to people they know. He said they have not served alcohol at any of the parties. Any guests who had alcohol brought it with them, he said.

Since Aug. 22, Tampa officers have swung by to check on the house 10 more times, according to dispatch records.

Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said police have tried to be proactive. On Sept. 28, an officer parked in front of the house at the start of the evening, and police returned later to head off a party before it started.

"We made great progress last year with the process we have put in place for these parties and underage drinking," Davis said in an e-mail. "Many (West Riverfront residents) have the supervisor's cell phone number and call directly when they see something. That has been a critical component in getting ahead of the parties."

Last week, a West Riverfront neighborhood representative met with UT administrators, students and others, as well as police, and turned over license tag numbers of cars parked at the party houses.

Police determined who owned the cars and turned over a small number of names to the university, said Gina Firth, UT's associate dean of wellness and student affairs.

UT's student conduct office is following up with those students. Initially, that will entail talking to students about what happened. If administrators find violations of university policy, that could lead to a disciplinary process. And, yes, students can be disciplined for what they do off campus.

"Our students are ambassadors in the community; they represent the university no matter where they are," Firth said. "The policies that we hold them to on our campus are also relevant when they're off our campus."

After complaints about similar off-campus parties last year, some students were sanctioned, though Firth couldn't discuss the details. Depending on the circumstances, sanctions can range from having to clean up trash to being suspended or expelled.

"Unfortunately, we get a whole new group of students every year, and we have to start over," Firth said.

Polite, who lives next door to 1311 Nassau, said Taylor has worked to be a good neighbor since that first party and "it has gotten better."

Asked whether she thinks the university should discipline him and his roommates, she says no.

Not yet.

"Give them a little warning," she said, "and say, 'If this happens again, you're definitely out.' "

Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.