Photo by Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback
Photo by Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback

Residents, students discuss noise violation complaints at forum

By Jenny Hottle, staff writer
Friday, Feb. 1, 2013
Originally published on diamondbackonline.com

Prepared for a friction-filled evening at City Hall discussing noise violations, student leaders worked to rustle up enough support to match a strong resident showing Tuesday night.

The public forum, the first of two hosted by the city’s Neighborhood Stabilization and Quality of Life Workgroup, saw a crowd of more than 40 people ready to share their concerns — and begin working toward solutions to bridge the gap between Old Town’s permanent residents and student renters. City officials saw the turnout — the highest District 3 Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich has seen at a public forum — as a positive sign the two groups are finally on the same page about initiating change, a necessary step before they compromise their very different goals.

“One shared sentiment between both parties is the other just doesn’t understand,” said James Jalandoni, Student Government Association governmental affairs director. “If we interacted more, a lot of these concerns wouldn’t have to be addressed in these meetings. We have to get to know each other first.”

For years, local residents have complained about student behavior — namely, noise, disrespect and that the local rental housing market is driving down property values. At this week’s forum, residents also said there’s too much crime, too much partying and too weak a police presence.

One resident’s car had been broken into; others reported finding an excess of discarded beer bottles and Solo cups in the streets. Drunk students have also been known to urinate on lawns and steal house decorations, they said, and current laws don’t do enough to keep students in line.

“These laws seem to be unenforced after hours,” said John Rigg, president of the Calvert Hills Citizens Association. “It is incumbent upon the University of Maryland police, the Prince George’s County Police Department, to make sure our neighbors and our neighborhood is adequately protected.”

However, students fall victim to crime too, said Shawn Greenspan, who told the audience his friend had been beaten on his way home one evening last semester.

“Students here have the right to expect to be safe when they’re walking around campus,” said Greenspan, a junior bioengineering major. “I hope this focus isn’t lost.”

But noise remains one issue residents said they can pinpoint to their renting neighbors.

Karen Needles, a city resident, proposed requiring students to obtain permits before holding parties to cut down on the noise and drunken behavior. Between vandalism and excessive noise, residents said they’ve put up with sleepless nights for too long.

“I’m not opposed to parties, drinking and the students,” said Kathy Bryant, president of the Old Town Civic Association. “But I’m opposed to late-hour drinking and partying. Let us sleep.”

Residents also expressed concern over the high number of rental houses, which “do not contribute to the long-term well-being of our community,” University Park resident Michael McLean said, adding rental houses scare off potential homeowners.

Students said they are receptive to resident concerns, but the housing options for them are limited and rentals are some of the most affordable.

“A majority of options fall on the extreme end of the spectrum — expensive apartments or cheaply maintained apartments,” Jalandoni said.

The biggest problem is a lack of communication between members of the university community and the locals, Jalandoni said. And fostering a sense of community between the two groups, Rigg added, could help relax tensions.

“Just because people complain about student houses does not reflect poorly on all students,” Rigg said. “There are students in our neighborhood who are ideal neighbors, in many ways better than some of our long-term residents.”

Following the meeting, work group officials said they will come up with a list of solutions. Next month, residents and students will get the opportunity to voice their opinions again when the work group presents its solutions at another forum.

Until then, the majority of students will continue with their usual, and often civil, relationships with city locals. For Isabel Enerson, a senior environmental science and technology major, her neighbors even eased the transition of living far from home by offering tips such as clearing leaves from the gutters before it rains.

“I’ve learned a lot from living in a mixed neighborhood,” Enerson said.

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