LEWISTON — City officials are hoping an overnight winter parking ban in the neighborhood surrounding Bates College will deter some would-be partiers at off-campus student apartments — and they say more pressure will be coming.
The City Council voted 5-1 to institute the new parking restrictions Tuesday, which will affect nighttime parking on a few residential streets near the college.
Complaints from neighbors over disruptive behavior from college seniors allowed to live off-campus have grown since last year, and city officials have since discussed ways to deal with the issue at meetings with Bates staff and Lewiston police.
The overnight ban will go into effect in 30 days. The council also voted Tuesday to waive its normal council procedures in order to pass a final reading on the item, enabling the ban to go into effect sooner. The first day of classes for all Bates students is Wednesday.
Mayor Robert Macdonald and other councilors had strong words for students living off-campus, and made promises to neighborhood residents that the new parking restrictions were just a first step.
“It’s a baby step, a first step,” Macdonald said of the parking ban. “Your streets are not going to be turned into fraternity row.”
He said the activity is causing longtime residents to ponder selling their homes. He said over the next few months, “we’ll have a crackdown” and students are “either going to fall in, or we’ll go after them big-time.”
Councilors were asked Tuesday to decide whether to institute the overnight ban or a resident parking permit system. At a previous meeting, the majority supported the outright ban, including police officials.
While there was debate over the issue, many said the time was past due to take action for the neighbors.
Police Chief Brian O’Malley said he preferred the overnight ban to the permits, based on the department’s ability to enforce it. If parking permits were used, those in violation would only receive a parking ticket, and cars are only towed after racking up $200 in fees. He said the department gave out hundreds of tickets last year, but the problems remained.
Many residents have said that parking issues include people blocking driveways or parking too close to intersections. The majority of complaints, however, have centered on how the Police Department, with assistance from campus security, handles noise complaints and underage drinking.
Brian Banton, who operates a two-unit rental property on Davis Street, said he’s concerned that the ban could adversely affect his tenants, who are not students.
He said he’s worried the city is rushing into the new parking restriction just to take action in the neighborhood. He said the majority of complaints he’s heard are over the student housing, not parking.
“I certainly hope this is a first step, but that you will take additional action,” he said.
The city’s first step to address the issue was implementing a moratorium on establishing lodging houses in the zones surrounding Bates College. There had been an uptick in landlords converting homes into lodging houses, where, based on increased code requirements, multiple students can live in a single dwelling.
In late August, Bates officials sent a letter to returning students about the off-campus behavior and the possibility of more city action.
Councilor Jim Lysen, who represents many of the neighborhood residents in Ward 1, was absent Tuesday. Banton asked the council to hold a second reading during its next meeting so that Lysen could have a say.
Councilor Isobel Golden provided the lone opposing vote, saying she wasn’t convinced the ban would alleviate the problem. She said she’s worried it will simply “disperse students to other areas.”
White Street resident Steve Kottler said he and a group of neighbors first came to the council on Valentine’s Day this year to talk about the behavior issues.
“It’s time for action,” he said. “We don’t need to repeat the same things.”
“The council was forced into action,” Councilor Tim Lajoie said. “The blame resides on the students; someone needs to say that. They are in for a rude awakening this year.”
An overnight winter parking ban for streets surrounding Bates College will go into effect next month. City officials are hoping the parking restrictions will begin to address complaints from neighbors regarding off-campus party activity.
Starting in October, overnight parking will be prohibited from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., normally effective Sept. 1 to May 31, on the following streets:
Bardwell Street (Campus Avenue to Vale Street)
Campus Street (College Street to Central Avenue)
Central Avenue (Campus Avenue to Vale Street)
College Street (Holland Street to Russell Street)
Elm Street (College Street to Oak Street)
Franklin Street (Campus Avenue to Vale Street)
Oak Street (Elm Street to Frye Street)
Vale Street (College Street to Central Avenue)