Law lessens un­ruly par­ties

Balto. Co. or­di­nance aims to re­strict par­ties in Tow­son, near UMBC

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Jonathan Pitts

Tow­son Univer­sity se­nior Justin Pa­try­low had just moved into a rental house near cam­pus last month when he in­vited a few friends over for a bar­be­cue.

They were play­ing mu­sic “a bit louder than we usu­ally do,” Pa­try­low says. But be­cause it was a Fri­day after­noon, he fig­ured no one would mind.

He was wrong. Pa­try­low, a 21-year-old se­nior from Al­len­town, N.J., was hit with a $500 fine and the prospect of 20 hours’ com­mu­nity ser­vice.

That’s the penalty for vi­o­lat­ing a new Bal­ti­more County or­di­nance aimed at cur­tail­ing the rau­cous off-cam­pus par­ties Tow­son res­i­dents have been com­plain­ing about for years.

En­acted by the County Coun­cil in Jan­uary, the So­cial Host–Un­ruly So­cial Gath­er­ings or­di­nance ap­plies to any gath­er­ing of four or more peo­ple in a home near Tow­son Univer­sity or the Univer­sity of Maryland Bal­ti­more County that fea­tures “con­duct that dis­turbs the peace.”

The or­di­nance, mod­eled af­ter sim­i­lar rules passed in re­cent years in Ven­tura County, Calif., Min­neapo­lis and else­where, car­ries a pro­vi­sion new to Bal­ti­more County: It isn’t only party-throw­ing ten­ants who are li­able for fines and other penal­ties; their land­lords are also on the hook.

On a first vi­o­la­tion, land­lords re­ceive a writ­ten warn­ing. On a sec­ond, they’re hit with an au­to­matic fine of $500.

If the rev­elry per­sists, they risk the loss of their rental li­cense.

Seven weeks into the fall se­mes­ter at Tow­son, neigh­bors say the ap­proach is yield­ing re­sults.

“Things have qui­eted down a lot,” says Chris­tian Estes, a Burkleigh Square home­owner. “There have been sev­eral fac­tors. The univer­sity has been great in work­ing with us. So has the Tow­son precinct. But word has got­ten around about the or­di­nance.

The or­di­nance, in­tro­duced as a two-year pi­lot, ap­plies to two ge­o­graph­i­cal ar­eas in the county: a clearly de­fined six-neigh­bor­hood zone just east of Tow­son Univer­sity that in­cludes about 1,200 homes, and a sim­i­larly sized area near the Univer­sity of Maryland-Bal­ti­more County.

The area ad­ja­cent to UMBChas re­ported no ac­tiv­ity un­der the pol­icy, and the sam­ple size in Tow­son is still mod­est. But school of­fi­cials, neigh­bors and po­lice agree the or­di­nance seems to be hav­ing an im­pact.

Univer­sity of­fi­cials who re­ceived 36 com­plaint calls from the public about loud

par­ties dur­ing the first two months of the 2015-2016 school year have re­ceived only nine this year — a de­cline of 75 per­cent.

County po­lice say of­fi­cers have is­sued 16 ci­ta­tions to Tow­son Univer­sity stu­dents.

Capt. Jay Lands­man, Jr., com­man­der of the Tow­son Precinct, says they’ve had just one in­stance of a sec­ond com­plaint on an ad­dress — a sign, he says, that the mes­sage is sink­ing in.

Estes, who vol­un­teers with a cit­i­zen pa­trol group, says the prob­lem is far from solved, but the change to the en­vi­ron­ment has been pal­pa­ble.

“The stu­dents don’t want to be fined,” he said. “They don’t want to be com­pelled to pick up trash. And I hear their land­lords are talk­ing to them. The so­cial host or­di­nance has played a ma­jor part.”

Town-gown ten­sions over loud par­ties have been roil­ing Tow­son since the 1980s.

The decades since have seen en­roll­ment at the univer­sity more than dou­ble to more than 22,000.

Neigh­bors have com­plained for years that the school failed to ex­pand on-cam­pus hous­ing at the same rate, or to mon­i­tor stu­dents’ off-cam­pus be­hav­ior.

A boom in the hous­ing mar­ket prompted some to sell sin­gle-fam­ily homes to in­vestors in­ter­ested in rent­ing to groups of stu­dents.

Tow­son stu­dents spilled into the com­mu­nity by the thou­sands. The noise, traf­fic and par­ties have ran­kled neigh­bors, par­tic­u­larly fam­i­lies with chil­dren.

Paul Hart­man, who moved into the Aig­burth Manor neigh­bor­hood in 1988, says the prob­lem grew steadily worse over the first 20 years. It be­gan to im­prove a decade ago, he says, when “the univer­sity started tak­ing it se­ri­ously.”

The school es­tab­lished a pol­icy gov­ern­ing off-cam­pus be­hav­ior, and in­au­gu­rated a univer­sity re­la­tions com­mit­tee.

The com­mit­tee, which in­cludes school ad­min­is­tra­tors, stu­dents, mem­bers of neigh­bor­ing com­mu­nity as­so­ci­a­tions, po­lice of­fi­cers and elected of­fi­cials, meets monthly to share in­for­ma­tion and pro­pose new poli­cies.

Neigh­bors can now call a cam­pus hot­line, 410-704-LIFE, to re­port un­ruly par­ties. The school fol­lows up by send­ing of­fi­cials and cam­pus po­lice to meet with ten­ants. The univer­sity can im­pose fines of $250 and up and other dis­ci­pline.

Jana Har­wig, the univer­sity’s vice pres­i­dent of stu­dent af­fairs, says the school has boosted ed­u­ca­tional and out­reach ef­forts, in­clud­ing cam­paigns to dis­trib­ute fliers, an an­nual apart­ment fair, and the ap­point­ment of stu­dent am­bas­sadors who work in the com­mu­nity.

Last year, though, Hart­man, a mem­ber of the com­mit­tee and a vice pres­i­dent of the Greater Tow­son Coun­cil of Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tions, went a step fur­ther.

He be­gan work­ing with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the The Maryland Col­lab­o­ra­tive, an ini­tia­tive of the state health depart­ment and the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The pro­gram fo­cuses on re­duc­ing un­der­age drink­ing and the prob­lems it causes, specif­i­cally at 13 Maryland col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, in­clud­ing Tow­son and UMBC.

Hart­man’s re­search with the group in­tro­duced him to so­cial host or­di­nances passed in sev­eral com­mu­ni­ties around the coun­try, start­ing with the one that be­came law in Ven­tura County nine years ago.

Each was tailored to its own ju­ris­dic­tion, he says, but they all framed un­ruly gath­er­ings as a civil mat­ter, not a crim­i­nal one.

That meant that po­lice of­fi­cers in those ar­eas gen­er­ally had lower hur­dles to jump be­fore they could is­sue ci­ta­tions.

It also got cases into the court sys­tem faster, and mem­bers of the public could see tan­gi­ble re­sults — all with­out giv­ing the of­fender a crim­i­nal record.

“We don’t want to ruin any­one’s lives over this,” says Bal­ti­more County State’s At­tor­ney Scott D. Shel­len­berger, a sup­porter of the law. “We just want to get a han­dle on the prob­lem.”

Hart­man worked with Bal­ti­more County Coun­cil­man David Marks, a Repub­li­can who rep­re­sents Tow­son, to craft a lo­cal ver­sion, one that in­cluded the pro­vi­sions for dis­ci­plin­ing land­lords.

Back­ers say the bill wouldn’t work if au­thor­i­ties didn’t take it se­ri­ously. They say po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors have been do­ing just that.

Lands­man di­rects of­fi­cers to is­sue ci­ta­tions, not warn­ings. Shel­len­berger’s of­fice has pros­e­cuted ev­ery re­ferred case. Judges have is­sued fines, com­mu­nity ser­vice, or both in each in­stance.

No one pre­tends the prob­lems of binge drink­ing or par­ty­ing-re­lated crime are solved.

“The sam­ple size is small, but the re­sults are def­i­nitely en­cour­ag­ing,” Hart­man says. “Let’s see how things look at the end of the year.”

Ac­cord­ing to Shel­len­berger, word of the pun­ish­ments seems to be get­ting around, and that has helped. It has cer­tainly reached Pa­try­low.

The Tow­son se­nior says he con­sid­ers the or­di­nance too strin­gent for col­lege stu­dents, and he wishes the public were more flex­i­ble. He plans to fight the ci­ta­tion in court.

But that doesn’t mean the ex­pe­ri­ence hasn’t changed him.

He and his friends have thrown no more par­ties, he says, and have no plans to do so.

“It’s a thou­sand-dol­lar fine for a sec­ond of­fense,” Pa­tryl­row says. “We’re try­ing to lay low.”

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