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Is the party over in University Heights?

What a difference a year makes.

There were fewer buses, fewer roving bands of drunken college students, an enhanced police presence, and much more quiet overnight Friday during the traditional first night of party season on the streets of University Heights.

This was in sharp contrast to previous years, when throngs of University at Buffalo students rode the Stampede buses – widely known as "the drunk bus" – from the North Campus in Amherst to the South Campus in Buffalo, seeking underage drinking parties.

In years past, the students packed rented houses and spilled onto the sidewalks, sometimes stumbling into traffic. Neighbors complained of  intoxicated crowds, vandalism, loud noise, fights and public urination.

That wasn't the case this year. Neighbors and police agreed that the night was unexpectedly calm.

"This is a lot different from past years," said Molly Poremski, who bought a home on Winspear near Northrup in 2015.

"And this day, traditionally, has been bad," said her husband, Ben Poremski.

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What made the difference?

Probably the most significant change happened in May, when state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a consent decree with University Heights landlord Jeremy Dunn, whose 51 properties on Winspear and Northrup had been the scenes of more than 500 calls to 911 in the previous three years.

That decree required Dunn to strictly monitor parties at his houses, prohibit tenants from hosting parties for more than 40 people, and ban serving alcohol, charging admission and sitting or standing on the slanting roofs of porches.

The consent decree also paved the way for District Chief Carmen Menza to visit a dozen of the more notorious party houses Thursday with Dunn and warn the student renters.

"The message that we sent yesterday to the kids was, 'Don't be the idiot that has the party,' " Menza said. "A hundred kids will walk out free, and you'll walk out in handcuffs.

"Of course, some looked at me like I just stole their puppy when I said that," he said. "I said, 'I know I just ruined your whole college experience.' "

Schneiderman targets 'notorious' University Heights student parties

Menza praised Dunn for his cooperation.

"Having this working relationship with Jeremy Dunn can do nothing but good," he said.

Whether it was Dunn's influence or Menza's visits that made the difference, the landlord's houses were quiet into the wee hours of Saturday. Some other landlords' tenants, who had not been warned by Menza, did hold parties.

Menza, who was patrolling in an unmarked car with Capt. Scott Testa around midnight, spotted throngs of students in the driveway and back yard of a house on Northrup Place near Main Street. Within minutes, five patrol cars arrived and officers moved students out of the house. The small house, with parties on both floors, had held more than 100 young people, University Heights Collaborative President Mickey Vertino estimated as he watched them stream out.

With students at a low-key party watching from the porch across the street, Buffalo Police E District Chief Carmen Menza, second left, and Capt. Scott Testa, middle, speak with Mickey Vertino, president of the University Heights Collaborative, left; Ben and Molly Poremski; and Mike Kicey in front of the Poremski home on Winspear Avenue. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Later, two large house parties across Main Street, one on Merrimac Street near Cornell and one on West Northrup Place, drew the same police response.

"College students are going to have parties and go to parties," said Ethan Richter, 20, who is majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering and has lived on Winspear for two years. "But if a house is having a party and it's contained and you're not bothering anybody, it's fine."

With so few parties, fewer students rode the buses to the neighborhood.

Another factor contributing to the quieter night may have been UB's changing the frequency and departure sites of late-night buses that take students from the North Campus to the South Campus.

A bus carrying only a few students arrives on UB's South Campus late Friday night. In past years, these buses were standing-room-only with students, some already drunk, headed to house parties in the University Heights neighborhood. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

UB announced in early August that the late-night weekend Stampede buses would no longer pick up students every 10 minutes at their residence halls. Instead, the buses would be reduced to one every half-hour and pick up students only at the Flint Road loop, near the academic spine of North Campus. This would add approximately a 15-minute walk for students from their dorms to the Flint Loop.

As it had on previous opening weekends, UB also offered more activities on the North Campus. All these university efforts impressed Council member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt, who represents the area.

"It's pretty low-key," Wyatt said about midnight as he stood on Winspear Avenue. "I'm pleasantly surprised, to be quite honest. We heard that they were reducing the buses, but we had to see it for ourselves. I give UB a huge A for effort."

Menza agreed.

"We have been saying for years that if you control the buses, you control the problem,"  he said. "It seems like they are controlling the buses a little more."

In a statement Saturday afternoon, the university said: "The university is pleased our new late night on-campus activities are attracting students and that the new busing schedule appears to be having a positive effect in the community.

"As the new semester gets fully underway, we will continue to monitor these activities and services to ensure we're meeting the needs of students and addressing community concerns."

UB puts brakes on 'drunk bus'

Though the buses occasionally arrived more frequently than every half-hour Friday night, it was very different from past years, when three or four buses would pull into the South Capus bus loop right after each other, each overfilled with students.

The Poremskis invited Mike Kicey, a new arrival from Pennsylvania, to watch the scene from their porch, where they again served Molly's homemade pie to student neighbors. As they chatted, they explained to Kicey how boisterous previous party nights used to be.

"It was like Bourbon Street, worse than Chippewa Street," Molly said.

"And on Chippewa, they have wide sidewalks and bouncers," added Ben. "We don't have bouncers here. We just have us on the porch."

Though student behavior has made life in the neighborhood difficult, Menza, Vertino and the Poremskis expressed concern for the young people rather than animosity. Through the years, drunken students have become ill or been injured, assaulted and robbed, said Vertino, a former corrections officer.

"I see my kids' faces when I look at them," Vertino said. "They're away from home for the first time, and they are putting themselves in harm's way, drinking on the bus and in these parties. I have witnessed as many as 350 people coming out of a house, and that's not safe.

"Not only are they terrorizing a neighborhood, they are putting themselves in danger."

Dozens of students, rather than hundreds, walked the streets of University Heights Friday night into early Saturday. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Vertino also works with students who have been required by the university to do community service after causing problems in the neighborhood. To him, the key is getting students to meet their older neighbors and understand how their raucous partying would disturb professional people, retirees and parents.

A young man's bellow of "I'm ------- hammered!" to his companion shortly before 11 p.m. drew only shrugs.

"When they're not en masse, they don't scream, they don't feed off each other," Ben Poremski said.

"I think it's a much better balance," said Christian Kurtz, 22, who moved to Winspear Avenue in 2013 and is studying aerospace engineering. "I know this is mostly a student-occupied street, but it wasn't balanced before. In my first year here, you couldn't even walk down the sidewalks, they were so crowded."

Anna Uminski, 22, who is pursuing a doctorate in audiology, said the noise and mayhem in past years made it difficult for her to study, even on weeknights.

"Some study nights were brutal, with the noise and smashing glass," she said. "The weekday parties were the worst."

"The real story here is that we all worked together for change," said Ben Poremski. In addition to praising Buffalo police, Vertino, Wyatt and fellow neighbors,  he also cited the work of Tess Morrissey, director of community relations and deputy director of state relations at UB.

In many meetings and discussions throughout the year, he said, everyone understood their message. "It's just a matter of demonstrating in a sustained way that this is not a free-for-all."

Police and neighbors have no intention of relaxing their vigilance.

"I hope you have noticed that we have a lot of cars out here, a large presence," Menza said. "I hate to say too much, because tomorrow it could be Mardi Gras out here again. But we'll do our thing tonight and tomorrow night we'll be back, and next weekend, and the weekend after that."

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