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Off-campus parties prompt neighborhood outcry

Claire Heininger | Friday, September 10, 2004

Frustrated with the effects of late-night student parties spilling onto their property, South Bend residents in neighborhoods heavy with student housing are voicing their concerns to the city and the University.Officials from Notre Dame, Indiana State Excise Police, St. Joseph County Police, South Bend Police and Notre Dame Security/Police joined various city government representatives in two meetings this week to listen to the residents’ concerns, said Jackie Rucker, director of community relations for the University.At the meetings, held Sept. 2 and Tuesday, Rucker and Bill Kirk, associate vice president for Student Affairs, heard complaints of students binge drinking, urinating and defecating on neighbors’ property, running down the streets naked and screaming and shrieking until 4 or 5 a.m. “It’s not just noise – we’re concerned for their safety,” Rucker said. “If they are so intoxicated that they’re doing what they’re doing, they could also be prey for harm.”Incidents were concentrated on East Washington Street, Peashway Street, Notre Dame Avenue and the area bordering the Turtle Creek apartment complex, she said, adding that many residents of retirement age or with young children feel forced to move out rather than tolerate the disruptions.District 4 City Council representative Ann Puzzello, who convened the meetings for her constituents, said all attendees – including the police – were so eager to list their complaints and tell their stories that time ran out before a definite plan of action could be put in place.”No real heavy conclusions were reached,” she said, except to schedule another meeting for the end of the month, when she anticipates a much higher turnout now that the situation has become public.Kirk said he hoped the next meeting would provide time to strategize more productively and give students and landlords a chance to contribute to a solution.”I hope students will realize that they’re in control here,” he said. “They’ve got their freedom. The question is do they want to keep it. … I could see real ramifications for the students and the city.”The University can punish off-campus students who break local, state or federal laws, Kirk said, and often uses a system of progressive discipline when dealing with offenses like noise violations.”We start with something that gets their attention, then the sanction gets progressively worse,” he said. “They should take responsibility for themselves before police have to do it, but I don’t know if I’m optimistic about that.”Both the frequency and intensity of parties have increased significantly in recent years, peaking in the fall and spring, officials and residents said. And while Turtle Creek has been a lingering concern – “it gets lost in the cracks” between county and city jurisdiction,” Kirk said – the problems at houses have flared more recently. “We have no idea why,” Rucker said.”It’s one thing when there’s a party on game days or on Saturday,” Puzzello added. “But it’s another when there’s one on five, six nights of the week.”Six-year Washington Street resident Anna Bolger reported waking up to $567 worth of damage to her car, kegs and trash strewn in the street and partiers singing the Notre Dame fight song at 3 a.m., all within the past year.”We called the police a couple times, but they [came] and [left] right away and the party went on,” she said. A few blocks down the street, senior Mike Rowaldi contested the complaints.”The police were out to get us right away,” he said of the $250 noise violation he and his four housemates incurred on the first night they moved in. But he considered the possibility of additional sanctions from the University worse than pressure from the police.”Once you’re off campus, you’re renting a home, and the fact that you’re a student is irrelevant,” he said. “It’s between you and the police, you and the community, not you and the University.”