'No vacancy' -- room for complaints Towson dorm shortage puts noise off campus

November 14, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Towson University's dorms are bursting these days -- they're at 101 percent of capacity and 150 more students crowd a waiting list for rooms.

With a "no vacancy" sign on campus, more students are turning to nearby apartments and houses, triggering complaints about parties, noise and trash from residential neighborhoods in the county and city.

Some neighbors have kept a log of students' comings and goings to substantiate suspected zoning violations.

"It's become a tremendous burden," says Judith Giacomo, president of the Aigburth Manor Neighborhood Association, which has ousted three fraternity houses from the community in recent years.

"Students have different hours than residential communities. They have a right to be young. But that doesn't work well when you have to get up at 6 a.m. to go to work or have children sleeping."

University officials acknowledge problems, but many students think neighbors unfairly single them out.

"They complain about anything -- if there are two people on the porch or nine of us," says senior Liz DiZillo, 21, who lives in a large Victorian house with several roommates in the first block of Aigburth Road in Towson. "They tell us what to do. But we live here, too."

Many residents, including County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, blame the problem on absentee landlords who divide large houses into apartments, squeezing excessive numbers of students into each unit. Zoning laws allow for only two unrelated people in a detached house unless a boardinghouse permit has been obtained.

The county has two boardinghouses -- on Burke and Chesapeake avenues in Towson.

But violations are difficult to prove, neighbors say, and doing so often requires them to closely monitor students.

Baltimore Councilman Robert Curran recently became involved

in an off-campus squabble when members of Sigma Alpha Mu, a Towson University fraternity, moved into his northeast district, disrupting a quiet city neighborhood between Lake Avenue and Cedarcroft Road.

A letter from the university about the disturbances has quieted the situation in the 6100 block of York Road for now.

"We realized we made mistakes with having fairly large parties," says David Diaz, 19, a fraternity member.

Paul J. Parker, vice president of student life, says the university -- which could grow to 22,000 students by 2005 -- is exploring housing options on campus. Currently, 3,204 students of the university's 13,500 undergraduate and 2,175 graduate students live on the grounds.

This semester, the university converted 135 dorm rooms to house three students in each room instead of two. It also is continuing to pursue buying Valley View Apartments on the south side of the campus.

And a university committee is discussing privatized student housing -- leasing land to a developer who would build a residence hall for 400 students.

While the university takes action against student organizations off campus, it is hamstrung by its policy when problems arise at houses rented by individual students, Parker says. "We have to wait until the courts take action."

One such case involving a student who rents a house in the 500 block of Fairmount Ave. in Towson is pending. Some neighbors paint a picture of rowdy weekend gatherings drawing hundreds of people. Other neighbors say they're not bothered by the students living in the tan clapboard house with tiny Christmas lights strung on the front porch.

"They're nice boys," said next-door neighbor Robert Irlbacher, 77, who has lived on Fairmount Avenue since 1952. "If they have a little party, they always clean up."

But police issued two citations this fall to university student Timothy C. Smelcer, 27, for maintaining a disorderly house and theft of highway signs. Smelcer says he is a scapegoat at times. "Whenever students get busted on campus for alcohol, they blame it on 506 Fairmount. They're not coming from my place."

He is scheduled to appear in District Court on Feb. 26.

State Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, who attended last week's meeting between residents and university officials, takes a tough stance.

"The buck does stop here. It's a shame neighborhoods have to get put on," he told university officials. "Make it clear if [the students] don't follow the rules, they won't be students at the university."

He and other elected officials want the university to establish a fraternity row on campus.

Members of the university's Greek system agree. But Jay Kozak, 21, president of the Interfraternity Council on campus, adds, "It's unfortunate a few groups ruin it for the rest of us."

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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