Online June 15, 2006


Residents say students rowdier than URI admits


NARRAGANSETT — A group of residents have taken issue with recent declarations from the University of Rhode Island’s Common Ground program that the ongoing problems associated with student renters in town has seen improvement. In fact, residents say, problems with noise, drinking, garbage and rowdiness have gotten particularly bad on some streets. Their comments highlight an apparent conflict between a large, grant-funded organization trying to justify its existence and residents who feel as if their concerns are being diminished.

“I’m on the board of the Eastward Look Neighborhood Association,” said Diane Chudlenski, a Green Lane resident. “I get bad comments from everyone. They say the university whitewashes everything, the police smooth things over and nothing gets done.”

Some residents, like Carol Stuart, have attended dozens of Narragansett/URI Coalition meetings, Town Council meetings and workshops between students and residents for years in an effort to grasp the problem and express frustration at what she describes as a worsening attitude among some college students.

Stuart said what is especially frustrating for residents is when the Common Ground program, which has an active media and public relations component, paints a picture that is much rosier than reality.

“They’re taking these stats and twisting then to their advantage,” Stuart said. “They have been using the newspapers. They have the money, they have a media committee, they have people who do nothing but work to get these messages out. They’re paid people while the rest of us are griping and using our own time as volunteers to try and reach the youth.”

Although noise complaints dropped by 12 percent last year, Chudlenski said living on her street has turned her into a “crazy lady,” pacing around her front yard at all hours of the night, losing sleep and slowly turning into the cranky woman in the neighborhood she never wanted to be.

“I can’t even begin to tell you all the horror stories,” she said. “The cops were patrolling the street every hour on the hour in April.”

It’s not uncommon for Chudlenski to watch college students urinate on her lawn. She’s figured out that by standing on her back deck, she can peer down on urinating students and say hello. They often have no idea that she is there and must run away before finishing.

During the past semester, Chudlenski watched a house on her street become surrounded by police cars as part of a raid. The flashing lights, noise, police dogs and overall commotion punctuated yet another sleepless night.

“I’m on a campus. This is my home. They are driving me out. We are thinking about moving. I can’t go through another year,” she said.

Selling a house on a party street might not be easy, either. Prospective buyers might be turned off by the sight of red nuisance stickers on neighbor’s houses and the clutter associated with college life. Single-family homes lived in by groups of college students tend to wear out quickly, and driveways designed for two cars frequently house many more.

Chudlenski said when she bought her house 11 years ago, she had no problems with her neighbors and enjoyed the peace and quiet. There was a house across the street, another on each side and several vacant lots nearby.

Eventually, the vacant lots were built on and Green Lane began to change. Five-, six-, even eight-bedroom houses were built and rented out to college students. One by one, year-round owners bought homes elsewhere and began to capitalize on a burgeoning rental market. Summer homes that went vacant all winter similarly became income sources as the market grew.

During the past few academic years, large groups of friends made a point to rent houses next door from each other, turning Green Lane into an all-night block party most weekends, Chudlenski said.

“The car doors,” she groaned. “All night, they’re slamming the doors.”

Residents are frustrated at the increasingly creative measures students use to circumvent efforts by police and community groups to moderate their behavior. When police cracked down on underage drinking at local bars, students pooled resources and partied in their rental houses. When police started posting nuisance stickers on doors, friends organized to rent entire streets, moving the party down each week, house to house. To get around parking restrictions, students walk in large groups through entire neighborhoods and leave their cars behind.

Chudlenski said she understands the lifestyle of a college student is different from that of an adult, and she expects to hear cars coming and going at night. What troubles her, however, is when she is the last year-round resident on her street and the students seem unconcerned about nuisance stickers, police visits, upset neighbors and garbage blowing across the streets.

“If one house gets busted, they just spill into the next house,” Chudlenski said. “I’m picking up beer bottles, trash. This is how I have to live. I’m sitting in my $650,000 house in the middle of what I call a war zone.”

Resident Eileen Desforges said she’s discouraged to see entire neighborhoods turn into “mini-dorms” and thinks the university needs to take more accountability and hold students responsible for their actions off-campus. The Town Council has considered regulating rental properties as if they were commercial lots, taxing landlords at a higher rate.

“There’s an absolute lack of respect from some of these students,” she said. “They’re telling us that we don’t belong here.”

Doug Wardwell of White Swan Trail said the parties attract people who don’t attend the university and might be out of town and cruising known party neighborhoods, often causing trouble.

“Sometimes it’s not the kids who rent who are the problem. Sometimes it’s the people that come to parties and they might not be anyone’s friends.”

Desforges said in the Village at Point Judith, 10 houses in a row are rented to college students. For some year-round residents in the area, there is a sense that their voice hasn’t been heard. Others fear retribution if they call the police too much.

Stuart said some residents have been egged after calling police on a noise complaint. Others said they’ve checked with police to find that their noise complaint call wasn’t documented by dispatch.

Stuart said it’s not as if there hasn’t been progress.

“The town has been trying, the university has been trying. It will never be the way it once was, but to have this in-your-face public relations stuff from the Common Ground program sets some of us off,” Stuart said.

The Common Ground program is funded by a $3.5 million, five-year federal grant and is in its third year. Because it is a demonstration grant, researchers must collect scientific data to prove the effort is being made with the goal of creating a model for other communities to adopt.

Fran Cohen, URI’s dean of students and a principal investigator with Common Ground, said the program has the same long-term goals as residents.

“Some of these issues for each group might overlap and some might conflict at times - that’s OK. We are unified in one goal and that is to make for a safer and more respectful community.”

And residents point out that even on the worst streets live good students. Next door to Chudlenski a group of “nice boys” has remained quiet ever since a lone party in the beginning of the year became a disturbance.

“I talked to them and they listened and were a pretty good group after that,” Chudlenski said. “You know, the way it should happen.”


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