Towson State University students may be grumbling about some changes after they return to school next month, as Baltimore County legislators follow a tack that has already taken hold in some other college towns.
The County Council passed laws last week to limit the number of cars parked at shared off-campus student housing and to make eligible for a fine or jail term those who relieve themselves in public. The council is also considering stiffening enforcement of restrictions against the number of unrelated people who can share a house.
Legislators acknowledged the measures grew out of complaints about student parties and off-campus housing.
Council Chairman Douglas Riley, R-4th, said the laws are "just elements of a whole plan concerning the students."
Residents called the actions long overdue.
Student leaders called them unfair.
What is happening is that lawmakers are responding to voter complaints about student behavior by enacting laws to alter that behavior. Students say that some of the new laws will make it difficult for them to find and afford off-campus housing.
In College Park, home of the largest university in Maryland, a recent law sets room size and parking restrictions on residences shared by more than three people, but only if those people are "registered full or part-time at an institution of higher learning."
In Baltimore County, zoning laws already make it illegal for more than two unrelated people to live in the same house, but it is common knowledge that three or more college students often live together so they can split the cost of rent.
According to Riley, the Baltimore County Council is planning legislation that will make such zoning violations higher priority in the local legal system.
Four or more students will be allowed to live together only if the landlord gets approval for a special-exception permit. Under the rules of such permits, landlords will be held responsible for the behavior of their tenants.
"The county will be able to administratively revoke the permit, so the owner will then police the property as they should have been doing all along," Riley said.
Student leaders say they are worried that landlords may not want to go to the trouble of obtaining the permits, and may not want to risk taking responsibility for students.
One county law passed last week authorizes the county traffic engineer to restrict the number of parking permits given to each residence. Riley said it will hit students hard because student residents usually have more cars per house than the average family.
The law will "encourage" students to park in campus garages instead of on the streets in front of their homes, Riley said. That option has not been popular because students do not want to pay for a spot in the garage when they can pay much less for a permit to park on the street in front of their homes.
Another law approved last week will slap those who urinate in public with up to $100 in fines or 30 days in jail. Riley said the law was aimed specifically at students, although Baltimore County police spokesman Steven Doarnberger said such violations are committed by non-students as often as students.
"The truth is that it's not only Towson State students who are causing the problem," Doarnberger said. "Many times, it's people who park in the residential areas and then walk up to Towson proper to go to bars and other establishments."
Chad Gobel, vice president of the TSU Student Government Association, said the legislation was "just another stab at the students. I'm afraid that the residents and the legislators have a stereotypical view of how the students are, when only a few have caused problems."
Riley said his legislation was written to address concerns voiced by numerous residents, all of whom had horror stories to tell about students who behave poorly.
Laurie Gassman, who lives off York Road across from the university, said students who rent the Victorian homes in her neighborhood have caused innumerable problems.
"They throw huge, huge parties with several hundred people who are drinking, screaming, throwing up and falling on our lawn," Gassman said. "And the police really can't do anything about it. What can they do when there are 300 intoxicated people and two officers?"
Riley said the Baltimore County legislation is based on laws in Delaware that have eased community relations so much that residents even throw block parties to welcome students back in the fall.