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UB, city take steps to curb wild students in Heights

University at Buffalo administrators and Buffalo police have taken steps to crack down on rowdy, frequently drunken students who have disturbed the peace of people who live in University Heights, the residential neighborhood near the South Campus.

In the last two weeks, the following has happened:

• Buffalo police made multiple arrests of young people in the neighborhood.

• The university suspended 23 students who were arrested and ordered 30 others who were cited but not arrested to do community service in University Heights.

• University police and officials from the office of Off-Campus Student Services visited six off-campus houses where parties had been held and warned the residents against future incidents.

• UB instituted patrols to clean up litter in the neighborhood after weekend nights.

• UB officials announced a plan to move the university police substation to a more central location on the South Campus.

• Top UB officials, including president Satish K. Tripathi, met with members of the University Heights Collaborative on Tuesday in the organization’s storefront community room.

• UB officials and members of the collaborative have formed a committee to study ridership on the UB Stampede bus, which has been blamed for bringing hundreds of students to the South Campus, where they walk to neighborhood streets, looking for house parties.

• The university revived a financial aid program that assists UB employees who buy and move into homes in the neighborhood near the South Campus.

• UB Off-Campus Student Services staff members accompanied City of Buffalo building inspectors into the neighborhood, where they found several code violations in student-rented housing.

These steps occurred following a Buffalo News report Sept. 4 that described throngs of young adults swarming into the neighborhood from the UB South Campus, shouting, drinking, littering, loitering and urinating in public. Neighbors who were out protecting their homes told stories of property damage, verbal abuse and theft.

Since then, UB administrators have met with neighbors to address the problems that residents have complained about for years.

“UB has a strong, ongoing commitment to promoting safety and good citizenship in our communities,” said Dennis Black, vice president for University Life and Services said in a statement. “We will continue to engage in productive discussions within UB and with the Heights community about student behavior and neighborhood outreach.”

Tripathi, Black, and Daniel J. Ryan, director of the Office of Off-Campus Student Services, met Tuesday with Mickey Vertino, president of the University Heights Collaborative, an umbrella group of local block clubs; Rasheed N.S. Wyatt, University District Council member; Buffalo Police E District Chief Carmen Menza; and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, as well as several members of the collaborative. The News was not allowed to attend the meeting.

“You weren’t listening before, but you are obviously listening now,” Vertino said he told the UB officials.

The meeting was held in the community room next to the collaborative’s tool library in a storefront on West Northrup Place.

“These were the heavy hitters. Obviously they have concerns or they would not have come out to a little old dirty tool library with hardly any parking on a side street,” Vertino said. “I realized how important it was that they did come to the community. I didn’t feel any sense of arrogance or power, no attacks, a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere, but focused on what we need to do. I said, ‘We want what you want. We want a positive image of our community, and you want a positive image of the university, so let’s make this work.’ ”

Wyatt agreed about the significance of the meeting.

“I was very appreciative that the president of the college came to the meeting,” Wyatt said, “because I think the community had the feeling that he was not connected, he didn’t know what was going on and he didn’t care, so for him to come meant a lot to the community stakeholders.”

Vertino said the “hot topic” at the meeting was the Stampede buses. Neighborhood residents have long complained that the students who are making trouble on the streets do not live there, but are bused from the North Campus on what is widely called “the drunk bus.”

“There was no denying that the students are using the bus on the weekend more for partying than anything else,” Vertino said of the meeting Tuesday. “Nobody tried to say they are going to the library.”

Vertino said a small committee, which will include himself, Black, a student, a landlord and possibly an official of the Student Association, will study ridership and discuss solutions to the problem of the buses.

“We need to go through the flow of the buses and look at the data on how they are being used and what can we do to meet the needs of the students, keep them safe and help the police in the neighborhood to manage this situation better,” Vertino said.

“There should not be buses coming every 16 minutes, or whatever the schedule is,” Wyatt said. “It should be a lighter schedule, because we all know the primary motive for those buses bringing students is not for educational purposes, it’s for the parties.”

In a statement released Friday, UB said some early analysis showed that the late-night Stampede shuttle “serves a limited number of students.” On the busiest night of the semester, according to UB, the bus carried 181 students between 3:30 and 6 a.m., with 52 students riding between 4 and 6 a.m.

Those numbers mirror the trend seen on the streets on the last weekend in August, when students streamed off the South Campus starting around 10 p.m. Sidewalks were clogged until about 2 a.m., when the crowds thinned. By 3 a.m., taxis filled the 7-Eleven lot at Main and Winspear, waiting to ferry the few remaining students home.

Wyatt said the community is demanding a speedy solution to the problem, and one that can be put in place and used in the future.

“We’re looking for something very quickly; we’re not going to wait a month or two months. I said to the president, we want something we can use every year, we don’t want to have to go through this cycle every single year with the same issues.”

UB officials also have announced a new version of a previous effort to assist UB employees who purchase homes near the South Campus. The program will help “support neighborhood stabilization and revitalization” by providing up to a $7,500 loan to be used for buying or improving a home. If the UB employee lives in the home for at least five years, the loan will be forgiven.

And on Saturday, Lou Petrucci, assistant director of Permit and Inspection Services for the city, led city building inspectors to off-campus housing on Saturday, where inspectors discovered, among other issues, a propane grill on a wood porch, a stepladder perched precariously on a small roof over a front door, a student sleeping in an attic bedroom that did not have smoke detectors, a basement with sewage overflow and a house where the bedrooms had padlocks on the doors.

Besides being a hazard in case of a fire, the padlocks indicated that “each room might be being rented as a unit, with six tenants and six rent checks,” said City Inspector Sean Sullivan. “In that case, it should be considered a lodging house, which brings in a whole new set of codes and laws.”

Petrucci called the sweep “refreshingly proactive.”

Some students refused to let the inspectors in, and Petrucci said some landlords tell their student renters not to let building inspectors inside “no matter what. They don’t want to work with the city, they don’t want to work with UB.”

Buildings owned by landlords whose tenants deny entry will get extra scrutiny, said Petrucci. If code violations can be seen from the outside and inspectors have never been allowed inside, inspectors can get a court order to allow them entry, he said.

Homeowner Kelly Donaher, who has lived on Winspear for 12 years with her family, said she appreciated the inspections Saturday but remains to be convinced.

“I wish they would come around more,” Donaher said.

She said both of her family’s cars were keyed overnight last weekend, with one extensively damaged.

Within 20 minutes after the inspectors started knocking on doors on Winspear, a landlord who owns many problem houses in the area drove up and down the street, at one point stopping his SUV in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven at Winspear and Main and gazing down Winspear.

On one pass through the neighborhood, he gave the inspectors, who have cited his homes in the past, a little wave.