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For University Heights residents, ‘night and day compared to last year’

Friday night, traditionally one of the biggest party nights of the year for university students in the University Heights neighborhod, some things remained the same this year. Some things were very different.

Thousands of students packed buses at the Amherst campus and traveled into the city neighborhood, arriving as frequently as every three minutes, not every 20 minutes, as planned.

Once they got off the buses, the students walked the streets, looking for house parties. They found the parties on Winspear Avenue, Northrup Place and Englewood Avenue, as well as some nearby streets.

But Buffalo police were out in force, and they broke up house parties, dispersing the students.

Neighbors, some of whom felt besieged last year as they watched the flow of loud students clogging the sidewalks, praised the police presence,

“This is night and day compared to last year,” Molly Poremski said.

“We might be able to go to sleep before 4:30 a.m. this year,” said her husband, Ben Poremski.

The couple, both UB employees, have lived in their Winspear Avenue home just over a year.

But another neighbor, who stood in front of his home to protect his property last year, was more cautious.

“I’m going to reserve judgment until later,” he said.

Some students, though, were critical of law enforcement.

“We’re not blind to the problem, we see what’s going on,” said Emily Smrtic, who was sitting with a dozen friends on a porch a few houses from the Poremskis. “We talked to a cop tonight, and we respect them. But at the same time, we don’t feel safe in our homes, with break-ins and thefts. The issue should be University Heights as a whole, not just busting up parties. There were break-ins all summer long.”

Around midnight, student Ethan Zieja said he was shoved and then punched by a passerby as he stood on the sidewalk on Winspear. He and a friend, Rohan Sment, said they pointed out the attacker to police, but the officers said only they would “go talk to him” as the man disappeared down the street.

Zieja was so frustrated by the encounter with police that he kicked a cement step, injuring his foot.

“I got assaulted, and nobody is going to do anything about it,” he said angrily.

Sment said he and other student residents of the Heights work hard to be productive members of the neighborhood, participating in tree-planting and cleanups.

“But every time we do right, nobody remembers, and every time we do wrong, nobody forgets,” he said.

Residents said the new police approach began Thursday night, when officers broke up several house parties. Late Thursday or early Friday, police broke up a large house party at 15 Minnesota and charged Samuel Banks, 18, who gave a home address of Centerport, Long Island, with possession of marijuana.

By Friday night, small groups like the one Smrtic and Sment were in asked passing students to keep walking rather than stop and join their low-key gathering.

Buffalo Police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said police broke up six house parties in the neighborhood.

District Chief Carmen Menza, UB Police Chief Gerald Schoenle Jr. and Deputy UB Police Chief Joshua Sticht were on the streets past midnight.

Two young men were arrested at 12:45 a.m. Saturday at 99 Englewood Ave., where police said alcohol was being sold to minors. Ryan Constance, 18, of 99 Englewood, and Patrick J. Ciarla, of Village Drive West, Amherst, were charged with criminal nuisance and unlawfully dealing with a child. Police said Ciarla ran while being questioned by Menza, refused orders to stop and was tackled a block away from the house. He was also charged with resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration.

And on Winspear on Friday night, police stopped and searched a 21-year-old UB student and his 22-year-old housemate who strolled onto the street from their nearby residence carrying tall German glass steins containing beer.

“I didn’t expect to have this experience tonight,” said the 21-year-old, who refused to give his name. “Technically we broke the law, but … .”

Both men were required to pour out the beer and given $52.50 tickets for having an open container in public.

To prepare for the weekend, some of those planning to host house parties put up tarps to shield backyard activity from passers-by.

Mickey Vertino, president of the University Heights Collaborative, said he saw at least one house where the occupants added a sign saying, “Private property.”

The anonymous Yik Yak app, which students relied on last year to find out which houses were “lit,” has made some changes to reduce anonymity. Amid user complaints about the new restrictions, fewer parties were mentioned on the forum. On Friday, one user posted, “RIP to that one frat party that got shut down.”

“My roommate went to a couple, said they all got shut down before they even really started,” another user replied,

So students piling out of the buses resorted to yelling names of places where they were headed.

One of those addresses was 99 Englewood. Around midnight, Englewood was packed with dozens of students standing on the lawns and stumbling into the street in front of packed houses. But shortly after 1 a.m., after the police arrived, the students were gone, the houses dark and quiet.

Back on Winspear, Molly Poremski served homemade lemon cake to students from across the street. The students had attended some block club meetings at which signs saying “Winspear Northrup Neighbors” were designed and made to be posted on homes on the streets.

“It’s more of a friendly approach,” said student Christian Kurtz. “It’s to remind people that there are other people living here, and it’s more than just party houses on the street.” Crowds on the street were mostly good-natured and kept moving, although some threw cups or empty cans on lawns or in the street. The noise level seemed lower than last year, too, although a booming chant of “Let’s go, Buffalo!” broke out at 1:30 a.m. on Winspear near Parkridge as students filtered back onto the South Campus.

Vertino spent part of the night monitoring the arrival of buses at the South Campus stops, where he chatted with the police brass - Schoenle and Sticht - before walking into the neighborhood to speak with residents.

Although UB officials had planned to have buses run only every 20 minutes, carrying a maximum of 171 students per hour to the South Campus, their arrival was much more frequent, with packed buses several times lined up behind each other to drop off students between 11:05 and 11:38 p.m. No large groups were seen waiting for buses on the UB North campus earlier in the night, and students getting off the buses on the South Campus reported that they didn’t have to wait very long before boarding a bus.

Schoenle said that despite the more frequent timing of the arrival of the buses, only half the number of buses were out, compared to previous years.

But the issue was not how many students came into the area, but how much they disrupted life there for residents, said Vertino.

“It took many years for this to get so out of control,” he said. “The message now has to go back to students – it’s not like it used to be.”


News staff reporter Stephen T. Watson contributed to this report.

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