University at Buffalo officials know they have a problem with rowdy, intoxicated students on the weekend around the South Campus, and they are trying to deal with it.
But University Heights neighbors don’t appreciate the solution the university administrators are using: Porta-Potties.
“I would expect this from the worst college in the country, not a university that bills itself as on the cutting edge of research and that’s moving its medical school to the Medical Corridor and bringing all these top-notch educators here,” said Fred Brace, a resident of University Heights. “If it wasn’t so onerous, it would be humorous.”
The problem is this: University students, many of them underage drinkers, are relieving themselves on or near university buildings before spilling off the South Campus and into the surrounding neighborhoods to party.
So UB installed two portable toilets near where buses coming from the North Campus in Amherst disgorge students onto the South Campus in Buffalo. The Porta-Potties are put in place on the weekends.
That is not sitting well with Brace and other neighbors.
“Their answer to these drunken kids was not to better patrol the buses, not to curtail the number of buses, but to put up Porta-Potties to protect their buildings,” Brace said. “This is an insult to the community.”
And hardly a solution, according to residents, who complain that once off campus, the students urinate on their properties and cause other problems.
UB started putting up the Porta-Potties on its South Campus a couple weeks ago, but the toilets are only a temporary solution, said UB spokesman John DellaContrada. And the feedback from students who are making use of them is positive, he added.
“The Porta-Potties are just one aspect of steps that have been taken following discussions that are going on with the community, Buffalo police and the university,” DellaContrada said. “We believe a community approach is needed to address the quality-of-life issues in the neighborhood.”
Signs of respect
Inside the buses that transport the students back and forth between the two campuses are posters encouraging proper decorum, DellaContrada said.
One sign states: “WTF, Where’s The Fairness? Stop urinating in public! It’s not fair to the trees or neighbors.
Another suggests respectfulness: “WTF, Where’s The Fairness? Don’t let the party get out of hand.”
But University Heights residents are giving the effort a failing grade.
Once students hit the streets in search of parties, they often stop to urinate in bushes on residents’ properties, according to Linda Kunz.
“It is not just the peeing. They break trees, they break bottles, they litter like crazy. There are red plastic cups all over the place. They are drunk and very loud, yelling out and calling to their friends and cursing. They are extremely drunk,” said Kunz, who has lived in University Heights for three decades.
Many of the homes are a century old and have oak woodwork and other architectural adornments that make them special in a neighborhood that is worth fighting to preserve, she said.
“This neighborhood is too valuable to lose, the architecture, the diversity, a business district and accessibility to the rapid rail,” Kunz said.
The rowdy behavior of intoxicated students would not be tolerated on Chippewa downtown or in the suburbs, Kunz and police say.
“We wonder if it was reversed and hundreds of kids were bused into a suburban neighborhood how long that would be allowed to continue,” said a police officer involved with patrols in University Heights.
‘Flash mob’ parties
Part of the problem, according to residents, is that house parties attract large numbers students who learn of them from Facebook postings on cellphones. That often results in “flash mobs” heading to the same party, Kunz said.
“The parties are usually sponsored by fraternities or sororities where they charge at the door and underage students go in and drink to oblivion,” she said.
If underage students are drinking, they are not only illegal but also open to becoming crime victims or becoming more likely to commit crimes, Northeast District Police Chief Kim Beaty said.
Buffalo police on Thursday night arrested UB student Brendan Morse, 20, a North Campus resident, at a Winspear Avenue house party where he was allegedly in possession of cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana.
“They invite strangers into their homes, which increases the opportunity for them to become crime victims and destroys property,” Beaty said.
Students who end up intoxicated are more likely to be unable to protect themselves from assault, Beaty added.
In addition, some of the young drunks get nasty, Brace said.
“You can only push people so far before it becomes us-versus-them. I have seen this for years, and students are becoming more belligerent. They say ‘this is our neighborhood and our right,’ ” said Brace, who is active in the University Heights Collaborative, an umbrella group of block clubs.
City police sympathize with the neighbors and agree the Porta-Potties are not a fix.
The buses that transport students into the city are the problem, according to Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda.
“We have concerns about the buses, and we have expressed those concerns to UB officials,” Derenda said. “We’re working with the residents in the community to address the issues, the underage drinking, the parties. We have made numerous arrests and will continue, with charges that are across the board from underage drinking to nuisance. It is about the quality of life for the residents.”
DellaContrada said the buses provide a vital link for students, not only during the week to attend classes, but on weekends.
“There are students who use the buses on the weekends for jobs, studying and to access labs,” he said.
The majority of students are well-behaved and respectful, he added. In fact, hundreds went out Saturday as part of the latest UB Community Day, “improving neighborhoods while giving student volunteers the chance to earn community service,” he said.
The university, however, recognizes there is a problem in University Heights.
“We talk to students a lot about the underage drinking, binge drinking and the dangers. It is an ongoing conversation. It is something that all colleges and universities have to address. No one is disputing students take the buses to parties, to bars and to restaurants,” DellaContrada said. “The positive aspect about the buses is that no one is climbing into a car after drinking and then driving.”
But Brace tosses cold water on that argument.
“UB says the buses are for transportation to study at the South Campus,” he said. “But it is a party bus coming into Buffalo, and as we lovingly refer to it, the ‘vomit comet’ going back,” he said.
Residents, he added, are making efforts to involve the New York State Attorney General’s Office to seek relief, while DellaContrada said that early next month the university, police and residents will meet to continue a dialogue on neighborhood issues.