Disruptive TSU students irritate area residents

July 22, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

It doesn't bother Kristina Arlang that there is a bathtub on the front porch of the aging Victorian house next door. Nor does she mind the peeling paint and the occasional loud parties thrown by fellow students renting houses and apartments on Linden Terrace.

She's a junior at Towson State University and figures that goes with the turf.

But full-time residents of the neighborhoods around the school say they're fed up and are asking Baltimore County officials to do something.

"It's escalated in the last few years," complained Joseph Wantz, former president of the Towson Park Community Association, which represents about 200 homeowners. "It seems to get worse every year."

Laurie Gassman, whose house is within a few blocks of the university's York Road entrance, complained of "late-night parties with . . . several hundred people."

"They can go till all hours of the night, and they can leave so drunk it's scary," she said.

In response, county officials are proposing laws and amendments to planning and zoning codes to curb unruly behavior, make landlords more accountable for student tenants and give communities an avenue for making complaints. These include:

* The Towson Community Plan, slated to be the focus of a Sept. 12 public hearing. It proposes a ban on granting special exceptions for rooming houses, which allows landlords to rent houses to three or more unrelated adults.

* A committee of community leaders, university officials, police and zoning officials that will develop solutions to conflicts between students and the community.

* Councilman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, who set up the committee, has proposed one ordinance that would slap those who urinate and defecate in public with $100 fines and 30-day jail terms. Another would give the county traffic engineer authority to limit to two the number of parking permits issued per town house in communities where residential parking permits are required.

* A resolution sponsored by Mr. Riley, also slated for adoption Aug. 1, asking county planners to devise reforms to county zoning codes to help communities coexist with the university and its students.

Planning officials will review a series of ordinances enacted in Newark, Del., the home of the University of Delaware.

In Newark, landlords who rent to college students are required to obtain an annual permit.

They are held responsible for excessive noise and any loud parties thrown by students in the houses they own.

Newark also has a "town and gown committee," made up of university and community representatives, to handle complaints, said Lisa Keir, an aide to Mr. Riley.

But Towson-area landlords say they are being unfairly tagged as the culprits when much of the conflict can be traced to a few unruly students.

Frank McCrystle, who rents two turn-of-the-century houses to students on Linden Terrace, said that he requires tenants to sign a lease prohibiting loud gatherings and parties.

But enforcing that rule is almost impossible.

"I can't be there every moment to police it any more than I can be in my own house every single night to make sure my own kids don't throw a party when I go out," he said. "Nobody wants loud parties, the landlord least of all."

Meanwhile, the school is limited in how it disciplines students for unruly behavior off campus, said Katherine D. Williams, a Towson State spokeswoman.

"In most cases, it's only after a student's been convicted of a crime that the university can take action," she said.

She said that the school's undergraduate enrollment has increased slightly over the years but that on-campus housing space for students also has increased.

The number of full-time undergraduates went from 9,409 in 1981 to an anticipated enrollment of about 9,700 next fall.

At the same time, on-campus residential rooms have increased to accommodate an additional 2,440 students next fall, she said.

Despite the increase in on-campus housing, community leaders say nearly every one of their neighbors has a horror story to tell.

Mrs. Gassman, who has an 8-year-old daughter, said in the past students have urinated on neighbors' front lawns, littered the street with beer cans and trash and come up to the front doors of wrong houses looking for parties late at night.

"They're not the kinds of things you want your family exposed to," said her husband, Robert Gassman, who is president of the Towson Manor Village Association.

Michael McConnell, president of the Burkeleigh Square Community Association, across York Road from the college, said up to a half-dozen students may share a single house. So students with cars often make it "almost impossible" to find parking in the parts of Burkeleigh Square that are made up of town houses.

Mr. McConnell said that the community association has filed complaints in the past against the owners of houses on York Road and on Burkeleigh Road and won court orders prohibiting overcrowding in houses rented to students.

"The message I'd like to get out is that we're going to continue to do that -- make sure that the landlords follow the zoning laws and that the laws are upheld," he said.

But then again, he doesn't "want to depict this as an 'Animal House' community, because it certainly isn't," he added.

He and the others concede that most students are well-behaved and conscientious.

But those who throw loud parties bring with them parking problems and a deterioration of the housing stock, they add.

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