Bills aim to put lid on noise Rooming houses in TSU area also are targeted

August 03, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Ever wake up at 3 a.m. to the sounds of college students playing basketball outside your window?

Or come home to find your driveway blocked and all the parking spaces within a block of your house taken by friends of the students who live in that messy looking, illegal rooming house down the street?

Or endure raucous drinking parties -- not once, but over and over again?

People who live in the usually quiet residential neighborhoods around Towson State University know the feeling, and it's one that "drives people to sell their house and move away." says Sue Schenning, former president of the Southland Hills Community Association.

That's why Baltimore County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, has introduced two bills, one of which seeks to keep the noise down and the other to better regulate the rooming houses many students prefer to the more expensive and restrictive campus dormitories. The bills will be voted on next month.

No one is promising miracles, least of all Mr. Riley.

"We see it as a small step," he said of the rooming house bill, adding that both bills seek to hold owners of the houses more accountable.

Ms. Schenning, deputy state's attorney for Baltimore County, said the problem is a vexing one in her west Towson neighborhood.

"Anything to tighten up on noise is helpful to a community. Most TC adult people don't live on the schedule of students," she said.

Ms. Schenning served on Mr. Riley's "town-gown" committee, which was set up to bring residents, university officials and students together to address the problems. The bills are the result of months of work by the committee and by county planning officials.

David Swank, 20, a Towson State junior who lives in the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity house in the 300 block of W. Chesapeake Ave., didn't serve on the committee but said that he had no objections to the two bills.

"Noise has never been a problem for us," he said. "The neighbors never complain. [The county] can up the ante as much as they want."

The noise bill would make "excessive domestic noise" illegal at any hour and would give county police the option of issuing civil citations to the owners of houses where loud parties are held repeatedly.

The maximum penalties would increase to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail from the current $100 fine and 30 days in jail. Owners of buildings cited for at least three noise violations within 60 days could, after a written warning, face fines of $500 for the fourth violation and up to $750 for subsequent report filed over the following six months.

The second bill is another attempt by county authorities to bring the scores of illegal rooming houses under some form of regulation.

County law allows rooming houses as exceptions to the county zoning laws, after a public hearing. Only one home in Towson has received such an exemption in the last five years, and only two countywide, according to a planning staff report.

Mr. Riley's legislative aide, Lisa Keir, said she gets about two dozen rooming house complaints a year from the Towson area, indicating that most such homes operate outside county zoning laws.

The new bill is an attempt to entice rooming house owners to come under county regulations by offering the prospect of applying for a permit and getting one quickly, without a public hearing, if no one objects.

In return, landlords would have to provide one parking space per tenant and provide detailed information and site plans, including the maximum number of tenants, a floor plan, the location of off-street parking and proximity to neighboring lots.

The county's zoning administrator could issue a permit for a rooming house meeting all the requirements, if no one requests a public hearing during the 15 days the property would be posted. The commissioner can impose restrictions on the permit, or require a public hearing, even if no resident requests one.

Once a rooming house was under permit, the county would have more information about it and the power to revoke the permit if there were repeated problems.

Only single-family detached homes would be eligible for the permits. Mr. Riley and the committee felt the smaller rowhouses couldn't meet the requirements. Leaving out rowhouses would mean some illegal rooming houses would continue to exist in the areas nearest campus.

"I hope [the new rooming house law] will make it easier for us to enforce the law," said Arnold E. Jablon, the county zoning administrator.

One of the main problems now, he said, is proving how many people live in a house suspected of being used illegally as a rooming house and identifying them. Citing students doesn't work because they are gone at the end of each academic year.

Dorothy G. Siegel, Towson State's vice president for student affairs, agreed that the trouble with rooming houses and with noise has been enforcement.

"We want to respect the right of people in the community to live well," she said. "People are indeed harassed by a few students. We want to be good neighbors."

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