Student Houses Deemed ‘Nuisances’

By BRIDGET BALCH

Fredericksburg Mayor Tom Tomzak vowed last week to crack down on rowdy off-campus college parties after homeowners complained to the City Council about late-night noise, litter and drunkenness.

Four Fredericksburg residents expressed their concerns that the disruptions caused by college parties are increasingly impacting their neighborhoods. They complained of students’ cars taking up every parking space on the street, broken beer bottles littering the neighborhood, drunken students in the streets at night, yelling, using profanity, trashing the street and trespassing.

“What used to be a well-established neighborhood now feels like fraternity row,” said Michelle Phillips, a resident of Brent Street.

According to Natatia Bledsoe, city police spokesperson, complaints about public disturbances in general make up about 10 percent of all police calls for service. In total, police calls specifically related to college parties in 2011 made up .38 percent of all calls.

Since Aug. 15, the Fredericksburg police have responded to 55 complaints of disturbances described as college parties.

“I would not normally be the person to complain about a party,” said Graeme Frelick, who has lived on Augustine Avenue for 15 years. “It has gotten really, really bad. We have never before seen this level of parties.”

Mike Diederen, a resident of the Westwood subdivision, said he knew it had gone too far when his 9-year-old daughter woke up at 2 a.m. saying she couldn’t sleep because people were screaming curse words in the street, and his elderly neighbor said she was afraid to leave her house because of the noise.

Diederen said that the police have been called more than half a dozen times, but that doesn’t stop the students from partying again another day.

Frelick said that he talked to the students about being good neighbors and observing the noise ordinance, which requires that noise levels be kept down after 11 p.m., but the problems continued.

According to Frelick, there are at least three houses on his street causing problems, with hundreds of people coming through the neighborhood attending parties. He said that he’s concerned that, as a result of the disturbances, property values will go down.

Some UMW students, however, feel that these residents are overreacting and not attempting to reach out to them.

“We’re not looking for trouble,” said Santiago Sueiro, a senior who lives off campus in the College Heights area. “We’re here because housing is cheaper off campus. We want to work with people. We’re good kids [and] we’ve been unfairly labeled and demonized.”

Sueiro and his housemates are frustrated because they now have to go to court for two noise violations.

“It just seems like a really extreme punishment,” said Sueiro. “If [the neighbors] were to come up to us saying we were being too loud, we’d be more than happy to work with them.”

Meredith Beckett, a resident of Brent Street and president of the College Heights Civic Association, complained that students in her neighborhood are being inconsiderate of the community.

She said that she believes the main problem is that, in the bad economy, more people are renting out their houses or apartments and not monitoring the tenants, and suggested that more focus be put on requiring the landlords to control their tenants.

Councilwoman Beatrice Paolucci agreed that, “addressing not just the tenants, but the landlords, is the way to go.”

Councilman Frederic N. Howe III compared the students’ conduct to the “Wall Street extravaganza,” and suggested that the council speak with University of Mary Washington President Rick Hurley to ask for his support and guidance.

Tomzak said that the university “has appeared to be oblivious” to the issue, and expressed his concern that taxpayer money is going to educate these “students to be future leaders of America.”

He suggested that the council also speak with the UMW Board of Visitors to address the issue.

Hurley said, “UMW is, by no means, oblivious to, or unconcerned about, the community issues or problems reported. In fact, the university is conscientiously taking steps to address situations with which we are familiar.”

He added that students who are involved in off-campus rule breaking are subject to review by UMW’s Office of Judicial Affairs and disciplinary action. He met with City Manager Beverly Cameron last week to discuss possible solutions to community concerns.

Several years ago, Hurley helped form the Town and Gown Committee, which consists of university and city officials who work together to improve communication and resolve issues between the University and the community.

Also, Doug Searcy, vice president for student affairs, sent an email to the UMW student body on Oct. 28, urging students to be considerate of the larger Fredericksburg community.

He said in the email, “In an effort to promote positive relationships and support our community, I want to encourage you to be mindful of our neighbors when you are in town. It is always helpful to make a positive contribution when passing through the local neighborhoods by minimizing noise and keeping the streets clean by recycling trash and waste.

Councilwoman Kerry Devine recognized that not all UMW students are causing problems in the community.

“This is in no way a slam on all university students that reside in the city,” Devine said. “We are well aware of the contributions that students have brought to the city. Unfortunately, the conduct of some of their classmates puts them in a bad light.”

 

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10 Comments

  1. Sara Monk says:

    “Councilman Frederic N. Howe III compared the students’ conduct to the ‘Wall Street extravaganza,’”

    KIDS THESE DAYS.

  2. Sorry Ms. Devine, but just because some students go out and party and drink does not mean that you should go ahead and outright judge the rest of them.
    -
    While I understand the stances from both sides (students and residents), I feel as though the easy way around this is to do what is technically normal…have courtesy towards the other people around you. Example: If you’re a student hosting a party, rather than playing your music loud and having people use the bathroom outside (it happens), keep it contained. UMW’s drunk people are generally easy to corral in an area. But also, if you’re a neighbor, rather than go directly to the police, just try talking with the students you live near either that night or afterwards. Surprisingly enough, there would be some changes if you did.
    -
    While this isn’t JMU or any other large party school, Fredericksburg is still a college town. The community and the school…no, the community and the students need to be able to coexist and be considerate of one another.

  3. Luca Toni says:

    @Fleur de Lulz: Do UMW students really need to be told that their neighbors don’t appreciate a bunch of drunken college kids urinating in the street? Do they really need to be told that when living in a nice city like Fredericksburg it’s inappropriate to have a loud party with drunken students (of age and underage) running out in the streets? Is the onus on the neighbors to teach students these lessons, or should perhaps adults already know these things?
    .
    Is it that hard to keep the party in the house? Or is there a reason that the hosts of these parties don’t want a bunch of drunken college students inside their house until 3:00 am? Maybe that’s the same reason that people in the neighborhood don’t want drunken college students in the streets until 3:00 am.

  4. Luca Toni says:

    And BTW: Mayor Tomzak is a world class jerk-off if he is somehow blaming the University for the behavior of its students on the weekends. “Taxpayer dollars” have nothing to do with this, nor does anything the University is doing. These students live off-campus, and are free to do what they choose. If they violate the law, that’s his job to worry about and the job of the Fredericksburg PD. But “rah rah” for bullshit talking points scoring political points at the expense of what has to be the city’s #1 employer.

  5. I think that if the neighbors dropped by and talked to the students, then there would be a bit more of an understanding as to why you called the police for an incident. Neighbors come in all shapes and forms, since there are colleges all over the United States, and different neighbors have different expectations. Why not discuss what your expectations are and the students discuss theirs from the get-go, and this way there would be no issues. Or if there are, then the person/persons who are at fault rightfully deserve the blame.

  6. John says:

    The cops in this city take a lot away from the relationship between the students and the surrounding area. Many students are fearful of walking the quiet streets at night to support local bars and restaurants, or bonding with fellow students at house parties, for fear of uninvited police officers who are merciless with students. The majority of students at this school do not vandalize or throw parties to keep the neighbors up all night. Making a phone call and establishing communication for streets and neighborhoods with student and family houses is key to resolving this issue. Students, tell the neighbors you are having people over and will control the noise after 11pm. Residents, make the friendly phone call and I can almost guarantee the homeowners will listen. No one likes to see those bright blue lights.

  7. avtiii says:

    “It just seems like a really extreme punishment,” said Sueiro. “If [the neighbors] were to come up to us saying we were being too loud, we’d be more than happy to work with them.”

    That’s not reasonable. The impetus to control our behaviour is not on the neighbors. Santiago can not reasonably expect neighbors to control his behaviour. You can’t do as you like and presume that if no one has told you it’s a problem then it must be OK. There is a certain amount of adolescent defiance at work when you enjoy your behaviour BECAUSE is might be bothering someone. There IS an adolescent defiance at work when you outsource your personal responsibility to others’ ability to tolerate the discomfort that you are causing.

  8. So we should assume that all of our neighbors are passive aggressive?

  9. Anon says:

    The school wants more students, and with more students there is going to be more drinking, partying, and off campus parties.

    The school needs to look into off campus housing for students. It will help contain these incidents, it’s pretty easy to see which houses are student houses in a neighborhood.

    Contain the problem.

    The cops need to stop being pricks and arresting college students for drinking, unless they are creating a scene. I’ve heard too many stories of student being stopped and arrested by a police officer when they have simply been walking at night.

  10. ks says:

    As an undergrad, I lived off campus and partied off campus. As an alumni, I lived downtown. In both situations, I’ve seen the college kid side and the neighbor side.

    Most neighbors will tolerate an infrequent weekend party where the noise gets a bit too loud. Infrequent = no more than twice a year.

    If you have a party, keep the number of people manageable, keep your windows shut, close the curtains and don’t blare the music. Make periodic trips outside to pick up the trash and make sure no one is “watering” the neighbor’s flowers. It’s really that easy.

    As for the comments on cops – their job is to catch people who are breaking the law. That includes drunk in public, underage drinking, and noise ordinance violations. that’s life – you could always “occupy” a jail cell to protest.

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