City officials support more enforcement for student housing

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LEWISTON — A few more arrests could go a long way toward deterring the destructive partying at off-campus student housing, officials said Tuesday.

At a joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Board, the majority agreed there needs to be more accountability among students and landlords at the lodging houses surrounding Bates College.

The workshop was convened to address potential long-term solutions to the continued complaints from neighbors surrounding the area of Davis and White streets. However, no decisions were made. 

A six-month moratorium on establishing lodging houses, which allow multiple students to live in a home based on heightened code requirements, is set to expire in August. City officials discussed a number of solutions proposed by the Planning Department, but many agree that a “multi-pronged” approach is needed to fully address the issue. 

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That means amended police department policies, zoning restrictions, resident parking passes, or potentially all of the above. 

“I think to solve this problem we have to get really aggressive,” Mayor Bob Macdonald said. “These are people who have lived there for years, and their quality of life won’t be ruined by out-of-state yahoos.” 

He said, “Mommy and Daddy” are often paying for the steep rents charged to live in the off-campus locations, which are spread throughout much of the surrounding neighborhoods. 

“We can’t arrest everybody — but we can do more,” said City Administrator Ed Barrett, regarding more enforcement.

There was some support among councilors to publicize when arrests or summonses are made. That way, parents will see if their son or daughter is getting into trouble at school. 

The neighbors also agree that the problem is behavior-based. The parties are mobile, one resident said. When police break up one, another forms around the corner or down the street. 

Bruce Noddin, who lives on Oak Street, said he’s seen some parties where both Lewiston police and Bates campus security arrive, and witness dozens of underage people. 

He said if the party took place at his house, he’d be held accountable. 

“Why not the 22- and 25-year-olds?” he asked.

Barrett said communication also needs to be better between Bates campus security and Lewiston police. 

Police Chief Brian O’Malley said that when police go to landlords, party activity usually quiets down. 

Among the alternatives looked at by the Planning Board are overlay zones, which would restrict where lodging houses could be located. Another easy one could be created permitted parking for residents, which could address the influx of cars during the school year. 

City Planner David Hediger said that while some issues can be addressed on the planning side, enforcement is needed to quell the issue.

“We can regulate that all we want, but if they want to be an animal house, they’re going to be an animal house,” he said. 

Councilor Michael Lachance also said enforcement is the issue. The city has a disorderly property ordinance, but he said it doesn’t lay out any fines or penalties. It can’t eliminate parties in city, but if it has fines or penalty, it might go a little farther. 

“Why aren’t we adopting a more penalty-focused ordinance to get people’s attention?” he asked.

O’Malley said landlords have been helpful to police, but there needs to be  more outreach or neighborhood meetings between neighbors and police. He urged residents to call police first instead of Bates security. 

Another problem, he said, is once the Police Department gains some compliance from a set of college seniors, they graduate and in comes another new group.

City Councilor Jim Lysen, who has been working with neighbors to bring the issue to city officials, called the atmosphere “pretty shocking” and an “intolerable condition.” He said he supports extending the moratorium on lodging houses until the issue is solved.

He also said the focus needs to be on behaviors and accountability. 

“With no recourse, this is never going to change,” he said. 

While he said Bates has been cooperative recently in discussing the issue with police and city officials, he’s “not confident the college can deal with this in an effective way.” 

Lachance said he wants to address the problem before more nice neighborhoods are “bought up slowly and turned into trashy, party hellholes.” 

Paul Menice, interim director of Security and Campus Safety at Bates College, said even if Bates takes the aggressive measure of revoking a student’s right to live off-campus, there’s no real way to enforce it. If they’re still paying for room, he said, there’s no way to control it.

Planning Board member Paul Madore also agreed that without a firmer policy, “you’ll get nowhere.”

“I sense reticence from the Police Department,” he said. “And colleges insulate themselves.”

Hediger said his staff will continue to look at options to address the issue, and will communicate potential changes to neighbors. Public meetings may follow.

arice@sunjournal.com 

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