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Committee, ND discuss parties

| Tuesday, October 5, 2004

South Bend city officials and residents met with Notre Dame officials and students Monday to discuss concerns raised by neighbors about excessive partying and noise levels at off-campus student houses. Those at the meeting reached no formal decisions but agreed to share certain types of information and to work to increase communication among the various interested parties. The meeting of the South Bend Common Council’s Committee on Health and Public Safety was organized by Ann Puzzello, District 4 Council representative and chair of the committee. Puzzello planned Thursday’s meeting as an extension of meetings held previously with South Bend residents, who detailed specific complaints about parties. At the beginning of the meeting, Puzzello distributed a list of specific concerns residents had previously voiced about student parties, including noise levels, property damage and police response to loud parties. Committee members and the representatives began by addressing the list of approximately 20 problems. Bill Kirk, Notre Dame’s associate vice president for student affairs, explained some of the legal restrictions the University faces in sanctioning student partiers or releasing information about penalties for specific incidents.”We cannot disclose what happened to a particular student,” Kirk said. In addition, Kirk said that reports of noisy parties often did not provide enough information for Notre Dame to investigate the complaint.”Sometimes we’re getting reports by which we have no means to verify,” Kirk said. “Quite honestly, we can’t always verify the information.”But when enough information is available linking students to specific incidents, the University can take action, Kirk said. “We have on several circumstances … when we have certain information dealt with those students pretty severely,” he said. Kirk said that off-campus students are asked to provide an address but the University ultimately has no way of enforcing that request. Jim Hessig, South Bend Police chief, said police also faced the problem of determining who lived in which houses, and whether the tenants are actually home.”The biggest problem of giving citations is being able to determine who lives there among a sea of people,” Hessig said. Mark Kramer, the owner of Domus Properties, which rents many area houses to students, said that in some cases South Bend residents could be overreacting to student parties. Kramer also cited one report in which neighbors called police, who determined that no violations were taking place at the student house in question.”I think there’s some overreaction going on,” said Kramer. “In this particular report, the officer is saying there’s not a problem.”Both Kirk and Kramer noted specific actions that Domus Properties had taken to increase communication, such as hosting barbeques for students and residents and holding information sessions for students.”In fairness to Domus Properties, they’ve really tried to make some efforts to bring the community together,” Kirk said. However, no residents attended this year’s gathering, Kramer said. Notre Dame senior Mike Roaldi said after his house received a noise complaint at the beginning of the year, he and his roommates went and apologized to the neighbors and distributed their phone numbers. “I think we all feel that the solution to the problem is more communication,” he said.However, senior Kaitlin Briscoe said her house at 113 Notre Dame Avenue was ticketed on a weekend when none of her housemates were home.”The neighbors complained about a party that was held and they cited our house but we weren’t even involved,” she said. Other South Bend officials discussed problems with zoning regulations, such as the number of people allowed in houses at the same time or the how many unrelated persons could reside in the same home. “I have the license plates of four different individuals from four different states,” said Pat McFadden, who lives at 418 East Pokagan Street. “What is so hard about it? You file a lawsuit.” However, Catherine Brucker, director of code enforcement for South Bend, said enforcing zoning laws could be difficult and complicated. “We sent letters ahead of time advising of what the zoning is,” she said. “[Enforcement] is very hard to do.”Ann-Carol Nash, a city attorney for South Bend, said it could be equally complicated to file legal charges against noise violators without very specific information.”We want to make sure we’re prepared for each and every case,” she said. “We want to make certain that we’re going in there with a case that we’re going to be solid with.”Other residents used the meeting to voice concerns about specific problems that occurred this year.”There was a fairly small party and they threw beer cups in our back yard,” said Anne Pendle, who lives at 703 Peashway Street. “For four or five years they were hundreds of students,” said her husband, Gene Pendle. Notre Dame student body president Adam Istvan also spoke about student government’s efforts to help improve the problem. “On Thursday we’re presenting to the [Notre Dame] Board of Trustees a report that deals with off-campus living,” he said. Istvan also discussed the SafeBus initiative, which he said would help address the problem of students walking through neighborhoods and causing damage. Residents also expressed concerns about poor police response to calls about noise, but Hessig said it was not feasible to break up every noisy party. “You could tie up some 20 officers for some four hours,” he said. At the meeting’s end, officials agreed to exchange some information about zoning regulations and legal processes. Puzzello said further similar meetings about noisy student parties would likely not take place unless problems specific to a certain street or area occurred. “There is no benefit to continuing to hold these meetings unless we have new information,” she said.Puzzello said she would continue to talk informally with the University and South Bend residents and officials to continue improving the situation for her constituents.