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.”