Here comes the neighborhood

Nathan Zoschke

Many different groups of people call the Rockhill Crest neighborhood home.

UMKC students, families and white collar professionals share the neighborhood to the south and east of UMKC’s Volker campus.

Bounded by Holmes and Harrison streets to the west and east, and 53rd and 55th streets to the north and south, Rockhill Crest’s tree-bordered streets are lined with cozy bungalows and two-story craftsman homes.

Many homes in the eight-block neighborhood are owned by UMKC, and most of UMKC’s fraternities and sororities are also located in the neighborhood.

For the most part, relations between students and homeowners have been good, although conflicts have arisen from time to time.

“There are two competing views on what our neighborhood is,” Rockhill Crest Neighborhood Association (RCNA) President Les Kline said. “Students have the perspective that it’s their college years, let’s have some parties and have some fun, which includes making noise. It can also includes leaving beer bottles, trash and urinating in the lawn. The other side is homeowners, professional people who can appreciate having a good time, but I’ve got to get up at 5 o’clock for work and don’t want to have my sleep disrupted at 1 a.m.”

Some of the problems have stemmed from the increasing number of students in the area.

Dave Kinred, RCNA treasurer, said the number of students on his block has increased since he moved to the neighborhood with his wife 22 years ago.

Both Kline and Kinred said some of the problems have stemmed from fraternities in the area.

“A natural thing about a fraternity is that they have more nocturnal hours,” Kinred said. “When the car doors slam, that tends to wake us up.”

In the past, Kinred has called the UMKC due to noise complaints as many as half a dozen times each year, although the neighborhood has been quiet in more recent times.

“A lot of students are serious about studying and need a quiet environment as well,” Kinred said. “A lot of them have realized they don’t have to suffer through it, and they can call the UMKC police as well.”

John Velasquez, a member of Lambda Theta Phi, said police have been called to his fraternity at least four times in the past two years due to noise complaints, which resulted in the fraternity being asked to quiet down.

“We really haven’t had any problems with the homeowner’s association,” Velasquez said. “The only problem we had for real was this past May when someone from the neighborhood called the campus police and gave false statements about gunshots being fired at our house.”

Velasquez said that after midnight, the UMKC police searched the home for weapons and bullets, but none were found.

“We explained that to the police, and they were very cooperative with us,” Velasquez said. “The officer just made us clear the house of people and turn the music off. He then told us if the guy who called them in came back by our house to call them back. Later that night the guy kept coming back and making racial comments toward us. Campus police were driving by, and he took care of the guy.”

Overall, Lambda Theta Phi has a good relationship with the neighborhood, Velasquez said.

“I think because we are considered a fraternity house, there is a flag up because of all the stereotypes,” Velasquez said. “Now that we have been here for a couple years, people in the neighborhood know what to expect from us. They know that we are not troublesome people.”

Other spars include the use of Greek lettering in the neighborhood.

While most Greek homes do not display their lettering, some, including Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) and Beta Theta Pi, have letters displayed very prominently.

SAE President Brandon Lewis said the fraternity has dealt with efforts to remove the 2,000-pound sign since the UMKC chapter was founded in 2006.

“The neighborhood is always looking for things to pick at,” Lewis said. “The neighborhood association leadership is fine, but it’s individual people in the neighborhood who are instigators of this.”

Lewis has not heard complaints directly from residents, but knows of complaints that have been filed with the university.

“They see the sign as a violation of the characteristic integrity of the neighborhood,” Lewis said. “But it’s not hurting anybody, honestly. It’s there, and we take pride in it.”

Kline said he didn’t see the sign as an issue.

“I wouldn’t say that’s a top priority for us,” he said.

Littering has also been a concern for some residents.

“My wife, over the years, daily goes through the neighborhood picking up liquor bottles,” Kinred said. “She tries to pick them up before they get broken, but a lot of time she’s too late and she has to pick up the pieces of glass.”

In some extreme cases, problems between homeowners have led to the eviction of students, although Kline said the goal is to resolve problems before such drastic action becomes necessary.

“In one extreme incident, a homeowner on Rockhill had numerous complaints about the house next door being loud late at night,” Kline said. “They were throwing trash on his property. He even mentioned after one of the parties, somebody urinated on his house.”

The man tried to resolve the problems with the students, but without results.

“He came to our neighborhood association meeting,” Kline said. “He was quite agitated. He said he had approached these students that were renting next door several times, and the problem was still persisting.”

After filing complaints with the UMKC Police, UMKC Homes and Assistant Dean of Students Eric Grospitch, the students were evicted.

Despite the problems that have occurred over the years, residents, such as Kline and Kinred, enjoy the students.

Kinred said he and his wife make an effort to get to know the students on their block.

“All the residents that I know really love the students,” Kline said. “Where we may have conflicts, I don’t think it’s something we can’t overcome with some improved communication and compassion for each other’s point of view and perspective.”

One other issue that has arisen from UMKC’s presence in the neighborhood is the maintenance of properties owned by the school.

In the past, Kline said many homes were in bad need of paint, and had obvious problems such as missing gutters, sagging porches and neglected landscaping.

However, in the past two years, he said, significant property improvements have been made.

Maintenance requests can now be made online through Cohen Esrey, which manages UMKC’s properties in the neighborhood. Once the request has been logged, a timeline will be set in line with UMKC’s service level agreement.

“Before [documenting maintenance requests], when I walked down the street, I would see a lot of houses that needed paint, gutters and a lot fixed up,” Kline said. “But there was, to my knowledge, no strategy or process to address those issues. It seemed hit and miss.”

Currently, efforts are underway to improve the landscaping of UMKC properties.

“It’s a continuing process,” Kline said. “UMKC owns over 140 properties in our neighborhood. That’s a daunting task to stay on top of that many houses.”

Both Kline and Kinred gave credit to Chancellor Leo Morton and Assistant Vice Chancellor of Facilities Bob Simmons.

“What they get behind gets done,” Kline said. “Both have been very willing to work with us and hear us out.”

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