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University Heights residents share party concerns with UB officials

Some call it a powder keg of booze and bad behavior that, every few years in the University Heights district, seems ready to explode.

Others say recent problems of drinking and destruction around the University at Buffalo’s South Campus are just a matter of kids being kids.

Whatever the case, the situation came to a head Monday night when a dozens of community stakeholders aired their grievances in the Gloria J. Parks Community Center.

“It’s a bad mix,” said University District Common Council Member Bonnie E. Russell, “because you’ve got these people who just left home and are ready to party, and people who are trying to get some sleep at night.”

Frustration has grown in the neighborhood in recent weeks as hundreds of UB students have taken to the streets each weekend in search of house parties where the hosts serve beer or liquor.

Those parties have at times grown out of control and resulted in the destruction of property in the surrounding neighborhood, as well as some tense moments between residents and students.

“They aren’t exaggerated – it’s out of control,” said Mickey Vertino, president of the University Heights Collaborative neighborhood group, which hosted the forum. “You have 1,000 people out there at one time, looking for something to do.”

The situation has worsened, community members say, because a few of the popular Main Street bars have shut down in recent months and the college students have fewer legal places where they can drink alcohol.

Not helping the problem, they say, is UB’s 24-hour bus service that shuttles students between the South Campus in the city and the North Campus in Amherst.

While the buses are meant to bring students between the campuses’ libraries – which are open 24 hours – others say the students are using them as “drunk buses” to take them into the city to party.

“On Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, there are not 800 students going to the library” from the buses, Buffalo Police E District Chief Kimberly Beaty said. “And it’s creating a problem in this neighborhood.”

UB officials acknowledged the recent problems brought forth by the neighborhood groups and said they would be open to working on solutions to combat them.

“We certainly know this is an issue,” said Michael J. Pietkiewicz, assistant vice president for government and community relations at UB. “We’re not happy with what’s going on in the neighborhood. We try to encourage our employees and staff to live in this neighborhood. They’re not going to want to live in a neighborhood where there is not a good quality of life.”

Added John DellaContrada, spokesman for the university: “We welcome continued discussion on how UB, the city and community leaders can work together to pursue new solutions and strengthen existing efforts to improve quality of life in the Heights.”

UB officials pointed to collaborative efforts between the university and the neighborhood groups to help the two sides learn more about each other and to develop mutual respect. Last month, the university held a block party that included performances by the UB marching band throughout the streets surrounding the campus as a way to bridge the communities.

At the meeting Monday, some students said the problems stem from a minority of rowdy students who make a bad name for the others.

“We live right in the middle of three campuses here,” said Jacob Jordan, a UB graduate student who also serves as president of the Merrimac Street Block Club. “There’s no way we should let these people treat the Heights as their playground.”

Jordan said perhaps the community groups could meet with students and landlords and create a task force to deal with the issues specific to this year’s problems.

Residents seemed to welcome that sentiment and said some sort of concrete action plan is sorely needed.

“It’s sad, because it used to be a beautiful neighborhood,” said JoAnne Coughlin. “I’ve lived on Winspear for 44 years, and I’ve never seen it like this.”