University Heights Neighbors Clashing With UB Students

11:50 AM, Oct 1, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO - Mickey Vertino lives in a neighborhood littered with red Solo cups, pizza boxes and Labatt Blue cans.

In other words, he lives in a neighborhood with a bunch of college kids.

"I've lived here for 30 years," Vertino said. "It's never been like this."

Vertino owns a home in the University Heights neighborhood, just a short walk from the University at Buffalo's South Campus on Main Street. As the president of the University Heights Collaborative group, he said he's fielded complaints from fellow neighbors about excessive noise, massive off-campus parties, and herds of intoxicated students trolling the streets. This district is a mix of families, the elderly and, yes, many college students from UB, evidenced by some of the beer cans and trash on their porches and in their lawns.

The clash between students and neighbors is not uncommon in urban campuses across the country, but Vertino said University Heights has reached a tipping point lately.  

"Upwards of a thousand or so students come here every Thursday and Friday night," Vertino said. "What are we going to do to contain this and try to get students to respect our community?"

Vertino said he plans to file an official complaint with the Attorney General's office, and he claims that the size of some students' parties should require permits. He also claims that he's walked around the neighborhood during weekend nights to document the problems, discovering basement parties with a dangerous amount of people in attendance.

Students who live at University Heights don't deny the existence of parties. They are, after all, in college. Some, like sophomore Ashley-Kate Goforth, even sympathize with their neighbors. She lives in a house on Winspear Avenue, right next door to a family.

"I think college kids are definitely disrespectful because they don't think about the families," Goforth said. "They just think about, 'hey, it's a Thursday night or Friday night, I wanna go out', and they're not thinking about the little kids next door."

But the young people who live in this neighborhood also say concerns may be overblown. For example, the size of the parties at the start of the fall semester may have set off an alarm bell for people like Vertino, but that isn't guaranteed to continue into the winter.

"I think at the beginning of the semester, yes, 100 percent, it's crowded with kids," Goforth said. "But I think in a couple months, when the weather gets worse, I don't think it'll be a problem anymore."

Part of the controversy, according to Vertino, stems from UB's bus system. It runs 24/7, even on the weekends, and gives students easy access to travel from the North Campus in Amherst to South Campus and University Heights. The school, however, defends its use of the bus system, claiming it provides students with transportation to their off-campus jobs or to the library. They also said the same system has been in service for three decades, and they said police keep an eye on students during the weekends, when they use the bus to go to parties or the bars.

From a students' perspective, it's also a deterrent for a serious legal matter.

"They need transportation," UB senior Sam Schustek said. "I'd rather people be safe and not drunk driving."

Aside from the buses, University of Buffalo officials say they're working to tame their students at University Heights, even though the off-campus housing is not technically under their jurisdiction. Michael Pietkiewicz, the Assistant Vice President for Government and Community Relations, said the school has tried a variety of programs in recent years to cut down on wild parties. Some of those measures have included seeking advice from other urban campuses, asking how they've dealt with similar issues.

The school has even organized picnics to help the students get to know their neighbors. Pietkiewicz himself bought a home in University Heights about 10 years ago, so he's familiar with the complaints.

"We know there's an issue," Pietkiewicz said. "We've been trying lots of different things, working with the City of Buffalo, working with the neighbors."

Vertino and other leaders say they designed the meeting on Monday to raise awareness about some of the issues in the neighborhood. They expect to hold another one sometime during the next week or so, although that date has not been finalized.

"We're not the enemy," said Vertino, the father of a UB alum and a current UB student. "We're trying to act like pseudo-parents with these kids and keep them safe."


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