‘Super parties’ prompt concerns
Old Newark residents ask city to crack down on large student gatherings
Beleaguered by large gatherings of drunken students in their neighborhood, residents of Old Newark are petitioning city council to pass new laws to crack down on what they describe as “super parties.”
“Super parties are one of the areas that make living in Old Newark a challenge,” said Amy Roe, a leader of the Old Newark Civic Association, noting that the Princeton Review recently named the University of Delaware the nation’s top party school. “Large parties get out of control and, unfortunately, the police do not have the tools they need to address the problem before it ruins our night.”
The civic association, which was resurrected last summer, has been meeting with police officers and city officials to discuss possible solutions to growing concerns over the party scene in Old Newark, the residential area that runs north of the Amtrak line, east of Apple Road, south of Delaware Avenue and west of Chapel Street.
“I can safely say I believe it gets worse, it gets worse and it gets worse. There is no doubt in my mind it’s at an all-time high,” Ron Walker, who has lived on Kells Avenue for 50 years, told city council last month. “You’re driving good homeowners out of our part of the city because you won’t aggressively address the
issue of partying in this city.”
The civic association asked council to amend the law governing private social gatherings. Currently, any private party expected to draw more than 150 people requires a special event permit from the city. Applicants must apply 45 days in advance, pay a $100 application fee and show proof of at least $1 million in insurance, according to Lt. Andrew Rubin, a spokesman for the Newark Police Department.
The group proposed lowering the threshold to 50 people, which Roe argued would allow police to break up unpermitted gatherings earlier, before they grow out of hand.
Rubin declined to comment directly on Roe’s proposal, but he noted that police usually break up parties using the noise ordinance or disorderly premise law, which are not affected by how many people are at the party.
The private social gathering law is difficult to enforce because police must prove the resident had a reasonable expectation that more than 150 people would show up.
Roe suggested that council could exempt churches from the private social gathering law, but lowering the threshold could still have an impact on nonstudent residents, such as those planning a backyard wedding or other large family gathering.
The civic association also called for requiring everyone on the lease of a property to be held responsible for parties there and said the city should consider increasing the fine for holding an unpermitted party and also mandate those convicted perform community service.
The current fine — $200 for a first offense and $400 for subsequent offenses – is not enough to deter students, Roe argued.
“We think super parties are accepting money at the door for booze but also to cover the fines,” she said. “They’re working the fines into the cost of the party, and it’s not a deterrent.”
Roe also suggested the police department park its mobile command center near party locations to use as a mobile booking station, which would expedite arrest processing and serve as a deterrent.
“Wouldn’t it be awesome if they parked that bad boy on East Park Place?” she said.
Kevin Mayhew, president of the Newark Landlord Association, said he and a few other landlords met with the civic association and voiced support for lowering the public gathering threshold and mandating community service for violators.
“Nobody wants to see rowdy parties,” said Mayhew, who owns student apartment complexes on New London Road and Delaware Avenue. “Hopefully, we can work together to come up some solutions.”
Councilman Chris Hamilton, who represents Old Newark, lauded the civic association to coming forward with the proposal.
“I like when people get together and think up solutions,” Hamilton said.
He said he hopes to formally discuss the issue at an upcoming council meeting and added that he has been working on a similar unlawful gathering ordinance, though he declined to share specifics until a legal review of the proposal is complete.
“We’d rather nip it in the bud,” he said. “Nobody minds kids partying as long as they are responsible. With people getting absolutely schnockered, bad decisions are made.”
Hamilton said partying is particularly bad along South College Avenue, Wollaston Avenue and Kells Avenue. Students use text messages and social media to quickly spread the word, and many arrive at the parties by Uber, he added.
“I used to party along Academy Street, but I don’t ever remember the parties getting so big so fast as they do now,” Hamilton said.
Sal Desiderio, who has lived on Ritter Lane for 18 years, lamented the changes he has seen in the neighborhood.
“It was a family street that I lived on with children,” Desiderio said. “It was a nice area to live in. Gradually those families were moving out because of the number of parties and what was going on at these parties. As they moved out, we became more and more of a rental area.”
Now, he’s afraid to let his granddaughter play in his yard due to rowdy students trespassing on his property.
“I’ve had people fornicating on my lawn,” he said, adding that on nice days, students also block traffic on South College Avenue by playing football in the street.
Matt Gerike, who lives on Kells Avenue, fears his property value will go down.
“It’s not very attractive to families who are looking to purchase houses, and they will not be attracted to a house that’s for sale next to a party house or fraternity house,” Gerike told city council last month.
The residents drew some sympathy from two students who were in attendance at the Dec. 10 council meeting.
“It’s not the majority of the student body,” said Meghan Mullennix, the student government’s liaison to city council. “Most of us really do feel for you in those situations. Hopefully we can work together.”
Trevor Nix, a UD student who lives on West Main Street, said some students aren’t aware they are causing a problem.
“We don’t really mean to disturb you as residents. We may not be cognizant of it,” Nix said. “Going over and having a solid discussion on how they can help not bother you would definitely be a really good thing that you can do. At the end of the day, we’re all people. We understand you’re people too. We all want to live in a good community together.”
He later suggested the residents bothered by partying should consider selling their homes.
“You mentioned property values. If you want to talk to me, I think I may have an economic solution for you,” he said. “You could get to move to the beach and have it paid for by us.”
Roe, who said she and her neighbors have been contacted by investors looking to buy their homes to use as student rentals, took umbrage at that suggestion.
“Some people think we should not defend our neighborhood and we should just leave or give up,” she said. “But we’re a community here. We have roots here.”