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Group discusses ordinance, service day

Nicole Michels | Thursday, March 22, 2012

Members of the South Bend community and Notre Dame student government discussed compliance issues with a 2007 housing ordinance and the upcoming CommUniversity Day at Wednesday’s Campus/Community Advisory Coalition (CCAC) meeting.

Cathy Toppel, director of code enforcement for the City of South Bend, said the city is having trouble enforcing a housing ordinance prohibiting more than two unrelated people to live in the same house. She said it becomes a resource issue when more people live in an area than is officially permitted.

“The problem [in enforcing the ordinance] comes in the follow up and producing enough information to go to court with,” Toppel said.

Mark Kramer of Kramer Properties said the priority should be increasing the resources at students’ disposal so they fully understand the rental commitment they are about to agree to.

“Somehow, [we need to] educate them to what that means [to live off-campus],” Kramer said. “Students may go and rent the houses out regardless because there’s a misunderstanding or because they don’t understand what [the ordinance] really means.

Pat McCormick, student body president, said Notre Dame’s student government works on several initiatives throughout the year to equip students for off-campus living.

“It seems like the best way that we can serve as a resource from the student government standpoint is to facilitate communication and to increase awareness in regards to the current codes as they exist,” McCormick said.

Ann Carol Nash, assistant city attorney, said students should be educated on the ordinance’s terms early on in their house search.  

“I’d like to suggest that they tell incoming students to assume that the property is single family, and to find out what ‘single family’ means, and to have the owner prove that the house is grandfathered,” Nash said. “Assume it’s only a two-people residence until the landlord tells you otherwise.”

Gavin Ferlic, a member of the City of South Bend Common Council and chairperson elect of the CCAC, said the main goal is to make sure the city ordinances promote good experiences for students and neighborhood residents alike.

“In regards to the housing issue, the priorities are making sure that what ordinances we have are enforceable, and making sure that they’re positive for both neighborhood residents and students,” Ferlic said.  

Ferlic said he anticipates facilitating enforcement of the ordinance by coming up with creative solutions to increase awareness in the community of its ramifications.

“It’s been difficult for code to enforce the ordinance,” he said. “We need to revisit it in a way that makes it enforceable and positive for both students and community members. Maybe part of that is a database, finding a way to actually produce that database and to create an efficient [enforcement] process.”

Committee members also discussed the upcoming CommUniversity Day, an initiative to connect South Bend’s universities to the surrounding community in a day of service.  

McCormick said CommUniversity Day, planned for March 31, has been the product of a coordinated effort between South Bend’s residents and its universities to deepen community bonds.

“This has been an initiative of the student body that has grown in recent years, and we’re especially excited about the theme this year: deepening our roots [in the community],” McCormick said.  “We hope that this will emphasize the shared belief among student government and the student body more generally that we all have a shared stake in the South Bend community.”

Despite concerns about the lack of compliance with the housing ordinance, members were pleased with the recent positive trajectory of community relations.  

Mike Carrington of the Alcoholic Beverage Board said he credits cooperation within the community for these successes.

“I have been really pleased, and I wanted to acknowledge the really good progress,” Carrington said.  “I think a really important piece of this when we hear from students has to do with student safety … the combination of everyone working together, I think has caused a dramatic improvement in all aspects of it.”

Brett Rocheleau, student body vice president and president-elect, said he agrees with other members’ positive reflections on community relations.

“The CCAC meeting is our way to connect to community leaders,” Rocheleau said. “These meetings have been able to keep great relations between South Bend and Notre Dame … in regards to today’s meeting it was great to hear what the community has to say, especially that no one had any major complaints.”

Ferlic said the CCAC is focused on improving the quality of life for South Bend’s residents.

“It’s very important to me to make sure that students have a positive experience here in South Bend and to make them more willing to reside here in the future,” Ferlic said.