LEWISTON — For many residents living in the neighborhoods surrounding Bates College, an important step was taken by the City Council on Tuesday, but students may not agree.
Separate ordinances cracking down on citywide noise and raucous parties passed first reading Tuesday, including a “nuisance party” ordinance that is the culmination of a months-long discussion sparked by off-campus Bates College parties.
The ordinance lays out a strict scale of fines for violations, including a $300 first-offense price tag for tenants. After a second violation, the landlord is also subject to at least $500 in fines if they don’t take action to stop the tenants’ activity.
For neighbors, the ordinance is a welcome change after dealing with disturbances for years, but for many, the ordinances seem too heavy-handed and broad. Even those who attend the party could face $100 fines after being told to exit.
Bates College students, who had been missing from previous council discussions going back months, spoke out Tuesday. Many said the new rules were too sweeping — a whole house of students, as well as the landlord, could be held responsible and pay fines for the actions of a few.
Even tenants who are not present at a party held at their residence could be subject to fines.
The students who spoke Tuesday night said they agree that neighbors shouldn’t have to deal with loud parties, but that the discussion has been mostly one-sided.
Isobel Marlow, a junior at Bates who lives on campus, said the $300 first-offense fine “seems excessive” and that many students are just now finding out about the ordinance proposals.
Marlow said students want to work with the city to address the issue, but that the proposed ordinance could “further polarize the police and renters.” If a serious situation happens, she said, students may not feel comfortable calling.
Hearing the concerns, Police Chief Brian O’Malley said the department would only be using the ordinance as a tool to “gain compliance” from students. He said officers would use discretion, and wouldn’t simply hand out summonses without first witnessing behavior.
“We’re not going to abuse this,” he said. “It’s a tool that we can use, if compliance is not forthcoming, we have something to go after them with.”
The definition of “nuisance party” in the ordinance includes a dozen conditions, including underage drinking, noise, parking, public urination – even littering. If police witness one or more factors, the fines can be imposed.
Many councilors said the ordinance was a good starting point, and that if there are issues with it that come up, it can be updated.
“It needs to start somewhere and this seems to be it,” Councilor Kristen Cloutier said.
Some students said the ordinance seemed to be rushed, but councilors responded that neighbors have been dealing with noise for decades.
“This has been going on for a long time,” Councilor Tim Lajoie said. “The burden should be shifted to students, because that’s where the responsibility lies. Go by the ordinance, be grown-ups, and don’t offend your neighbors.”
In the weeks running up to the first reading, Bates College officials have met with students to discuss the issues. Most conversations have taken place with students living off-campus, where each student apartment now has a liaison working with police.
O’Malley had previously reported to the council that there were 13 summonses handed out around campus during the first weekend of the new school year, but last weekend, he said, there were only three. One of those charged, he said, urinated on a campus security vehicle.
He said police have found that so far this year, those living off-campus have been complying with police, but that underclassmen have been slower to come around. There was also a meeting held for underclassmen where only two students came.
He said two weeks ago, seniors living off-campus held a party beginning at 4 p.m. in an attempt to not disturb neighbors into late-night hours. Police were still called. He said it showed that students were trying to be more mindful, but that “a disturbance is still a disturbance regardless of time.”
No landlords spoke during public comment, but there was concern previously for the stiff fines faced by landlords who may get stuck with problem tenants, even during an eviction proceeding.
O’Malley said that after a second offense by a tenant, if the landlord conveys that they’re making attempts to mitigate the issue, they won’t receive a violation.
“My goal is not to summons landlords, it’s to get compliance from tenants,” he said.
Calvin Cronin, a senior living off-campus, said students realize neighbors have dealt with a lot, but said there was no real sense of the impact students were having in the neighborhood.
“It’s blindsiding us a little,” he said about the ordinance. “We’d love to have a chance to prove that our class is capable of making change, making adjustments toward a more amicable solution.”
“You all should ask: Would I do this at my home? I think the answer would say no,” said Mayor Bob Macdonald, adding that 99 percent of students are respectful.
Maura Murphy, who has been a leading voice among neighbors, said the ordinance will “set the standards” and expectations for students living in the neighborhood.
“Each year feels new for Bates students,” she said. “For us it feels the same.”
If the ordinance passes final reading on Oct. 3, it will become effective in early November. City Administrator Ed Barrett said that gives Bates administration more time to make students aware of the details.
Ordinance definition of nuisance party
A “nuisance party” is defined as a social gathering or party that is conducted on premises within the city and which, by reason of the conduct of the persons in attendance, results in any one or more of the following conditions or events occurring at the site of the party or social gathering, or on neighboring public or private property:
1. Disorderly conduct;
2. Illegal open container;
3. Outdoor urination or defecation in a public place;
4. Unlawful sale, furnishing, dispensing or consumption of beer or intoxicating liquor to an underage person;
5. Illegal use of a controlled substance;
6. Public indecency;
7. Unlawful deposit of litter or refuse;
8. Damage or destruction of property without the consent of the property owner;
9. Unlawful pedestrian or vehicular traffic;
10. Standing or parking of vehicles that obstructs the free flow of traffic on the public streets and sidewalks or that impedes the ability to render emergency services;
11. Unlawfully loud noise; or
12. Any other conduct or condition that threatens injury, inconvenience, or alarm to persons or damage to property.