BATAVIA – Lifelong Batavia resident Kenneth Darch struck a nerve with several City Council members Monday night when he urged them to take action to stop the fighting, drug use, drunkenness and unruly behavior in his neighborhood.
“We’ve endured this problem of disorderly conduct and unlawful activity for 10 years now, especially the past two to three years,” said Darch, speaking on behalf of a half-dozen residents of Hutchins Street who attended the Council meeting in City Hall.
Darch said a brawl involving about 15 people Friday prompted the residents to take their concerns to the Council. He said people were using baseball bats, knives and pipes in the fight, which drew at least 10 police vehicles to the scene.
“What can be done to clean up the neighborhood so our homes and families can be safe?” he asked.
“It’s not a racial issue. These people are black and white, young and old.”
The main reasons for the problems, Darch said, are “absent and unaccountable landlords” and a “lax” attitude by law enforcement when it comes to making arrests.
“Here they had a chance to arrest 15, but only when the policewoman pulled out her Taser did they start to behave,” he said. “It needs more than a watchful eye on the neighborhood.”
Council Members Rose Mary Christian, Patti Pacino and Kathleen Briggs echoed Darch’s feelings, stating that they have been dealing with similar situations in their wards.
“We have to do something about these absentee landlords,” Christian said, adding that she would like the city to look into the eviction process if “these problems continue.”
She said she called the state Attorney General’s Office to see what can be done “because our neighborhoods are getting ruined by people who have no respect.”
Pacino suggested forming a Council/citizens group to address the issues, while Briggs said that “it’s put-up-or-shut-up time. … We have got to take action.”
Council Member Eugene Jankowski Jr., a former city police officer, said the key to getting results is having residents sign a complaint when reporting disorderly conduct.
“If someone signs a complaint, it would be difficult not to make an arrest if a crime was committed or there was a violation,” Jankowski said.
According to Assistant Police Chief Robb Yaeger, police have received 40 calls from residents of Hutchins since April 1, with 15 of them regarding disturbances. He said that one person with a knife was arrested Friday night – a parolee who likely will be heading back to jail.
City Manager Jason R. Molino said that he and Police Chief Shawn Heubusch will “pull the call volume reports” to get an understanding of what is happening on Hutchins and set up a meeting with residents. Until then, Molino said, police will increase patrols in the neighborhood, primarily the block between Ellicott and Sumner streets, he said.
In other business, the Council passed two local laws amending the municipal code to prohibit new applications for rooming houses, boardinghouses, tourist homes and lodging houses, retroactive to July 1.
The new laws also require that every rooming house includes a parking space for each roomer owning or using a motor vehicle.
City officials contended that an influx of these types of dwellings would run counter to the city’s comprehensive master and community improvement plans, which recommend preventing multifamily structures from growing in an effort to preserve the “positive character” of single-family neighborhoods.
Council members also voted to raise the annual fee for renewing a rooming house permit from to $150, from $50.
In other action, the Council:
• Voted to accept a bid of $294,440 from Sunshine Concrete Co. for replacement of 3,250 square yards of sidewalks and handicapped-accessible ramps on Allen Street, Holland Avenue, North Street, Olyn Avenue and Redfield Parkway. The bid came in at $20,000 over budget.
• Authorized Molino to apply for two state Community Development Block Grants – one for between $300,000 and $400,000 to fund the State Street sanitary sewer siphon elimination project that would begin in 2016, and the other for $50,000 to evaluate the city’s existing storm sewer system and develop a plan for its maintenance.
Molino said the storm sewer system grant application will show that the city is committing $10,000 in matching funds, more than the required 5 percent.
• Voted, 6-3, to give Molino a 2 percent raise, retroactive to April 1. His new salary is $91,272. Council Members Briggs, Jankowski and John Deleo voted against the increase.