Residents of White Street in Lewiston said they have grown tired of Bates College students drinking too much and being loud, obnoxious and urinating on residents’ lawns in the early-morning hours. Residents include Steve Kottler, Tracey Miller, right, Maura Murphy, second from right, and a resident who does not want to reveal her name. The container in the background was used during the cleanup of a house on White Street that houses Bates students.

LEWISTON — A group of neighbors living on White Street, near Bates College, walked their neighborhood last week feeling more well-rested than in the days prior. They noticed the sound of birds chirping and the wind blowing through the trees. 

For the neighbors, the weeks following graduation at Bates College are a welcome relief from a school year full of chaos in the neighborhood. Just a few weeks ago, they said, the street looked — and sounded — completely different. 

They described the recent exodus of college seniors who live in off-campus apartments throughout the surrounding street — something that is a welcome sight. A huge metal waste container was still parked in front of one building, full of discarded furniture and small appliances.

White Street resident Maura Murphy said if someone walked the street just days before, they’d probably come across vomit, the stench of urine, plastic cups or discarded clothing. There were muddy strips of lawn along the road where car tires had frequently come and gone. 

The neighbors, many of whom have lived there for decades, say they’re watching their neighborhood slipping away.  

Murphy, who grew up on Davis Street and now lives on White, recently returned to Lewiston after years of living abroad. She said she came home to a neighborhood that was completely changed. 

Ward 1 Councilor Jim Lysen has since met with the neighbors a number of times, and has acted as a liaison between the group and city staff to address the concerns. 

The City Council and Planning Board held a joint workshop Tuesday to discuss multiple options for addressing the issue of loud and dangerous party activity, and while no decisions were made, the majority agreed that greater enforcement is needed

At Murphy’s house last week, Lysen said he’s hoping the city can find a way to at least slow the issue. At a basic level, despite the noise and destruction, he said, underage drinking and other safety issues are the biggest concern. 

He became aware of the problem while campaigning in the neighborhood two years ago. A live band was setting up and kegs of beer were being rolled into a building.  

“That’s when I thought, ‘This is something I need to focus on,'” he said. “And it’s just gotten worse over the last two years.”

After researching some 100 college towns, Murphy recently proposed an ordinance to city staff that’s in use in Buffalo, N.Y. The “nuisance party” ordinance essentially gives police officers more power to break up large parties and hold landlords more accountable. 

City Administrator Ed Barrett said staff will look at the ordinance as one of the potential solutions. 

Lysen said he believes a similar ordinance is the best option for Lewiston, one that could be established citywide and could avoid possible lawsuits that often come from action regarding student housing.

Murphy said the nuisance party ordinance could “act as a deterrent” for tenants and landlords. But she’s hoping it’ll also lead to more police enforcement if necessary. 

She said most of the time when police are called to her street, officers break up the party, telling students to move along. But she said the clusters of students usually end up at another party nearby. 

She said sometimes she’ll count the number of students leaving a party, but normally stops at 100. 

“I always apologize when I call (the police), but they tell me I should keep calling,” she said. “They told me that that’s the way to get the message across that it’s a huge problem.” 

At the meeting Tuesday, Police Chief Brian O’Malley said the department must legally give a warning first for noise complaints or partying, and if they’re called again, they can take action.

The department has a disorderly property policy based on receiving five calls or more regarding a sole residence within 30 days, or 15 calls within a year. O’Malley said no address on either Davis or White streets met that criteria — numbers that Murphy and other neighbors strongly disputed.

O’Malley and Barrett said the city would look into how the reporting is done based on the calls received.  

Murphy said she went to the city late last year because she couldn’t make any progress on the issue by working with Bates College staff. 

She said college officials have told her that their security is allowed to break up parties. But when they occur, she said, security officers tell her they’re not allowed to take action at residences not owned by the college. 

Murphy said there’s also a number of professors or other residents with ties to the college who live in the neighborhood. She said while they prefer not to go public with their concern, they are also “horrified and embarrassed” by what unfolds in the neighborhood. 

But, she said, “This is not an anti-Bates movement. We all have connections to Bates. This is for civility, peace and respect.” 

Tracey Miller, who lives at the corner of White and Oak streets, said she gave up trying to talk to students during loud parties. After approaching a group of students once, she said, one became combative, so now she simply calls the police if it gets out of hand. 

Another neighbor, who wished to remain anonymous, said she’s lived on White Street since 1969. While there’s always been partying, she said, it’s gotten worse. 

“This is about preserving the neighborhood,” she said. 

“Right now, they get away with whatever,” Miller said. “There needs to be some kind of accountability.” 

None of the neighbors who spoke to the Sun Journal said they’ve seen an arrest made at a party.

O’Malley said Tuesday that one arrest was made this spring. 

Carl Steidel, senior associate dean of students at Bates College, told the Sun Journal in February that the college has a “progressive discipline process” for when parties or other disruptions occur, beginning with warnings and possibly ending with revoking a student’s permission to live off-campus. 

The school has a lottery system to allow seniors to live off-campus — a number that fluctuates yearly. This year, there were about 170 students living off-campus. Next year, he said, there will be about 30 fewer. 

However, Lysen said if students (or parents) want to pay both full tuition and the cost of an apartment off-campus, there’s no stopping it. 

Sean Findlen, communications officer at Bates College, said Tuesday that Bates staff has been “working closely and collaboratively with Lewiston public safety officials and code enforcement on these issues and concerns. Those sessions and discussions have been productive and we look forward to continued collaboration.”

Paul Menice, interim director of Security and Campus Safety at Bates College, said during the meeting that when the office is notified of an arrest or summons, security will do an incident report, which is sent to student affairs.

Most of the time, it results in community restitution hours or probation, he said. A number of students have been suspended for a semester. A Student Conduct Committee ultimately decides on the fate of students. 

The issue of partying in the neighborhood isn’t new. Most of the surrounding streets are only a few blocks from the Bates campus. 

But despite the capped number of seniors who are allowed to live off-campus, residents say more and more homes are being turned into student housing.

Prior to a moratorium that was passed in February, landlords were taking advantage of the city’s lodging houses ordinance, which allowed a number of students to live in one home if landlords met higher code standards. The moratorium is set to expire in August. 

“It’s become a business,” Murphy said regarding the lodging houses. 

Many homeowners in the neighborhood have been approached by landlords about possibly selling to make way for more student housing, Murphy said. 

Steve Kottler of White Street said the issue isn’t isolated to White and Davis streets. Lodging houses also exist on College Street, Oak Street and others.

“I feel fortunate the city government has been stepping forward very responsibly to do this,” he said. “They’re really on board to try to salvage some stability.” 

Often times, the houses will belong to members of a Bates athletic team. The group pointed out a home on Oak Street that had been rented by members of the Bates football squad this year.

One of the neighbors described the activity there as “insanely drunk.” 

“Someone likened it to Mardi Gras, with people just in the streets with open containers,” Lysen said. 

Lysen said he’s heard people comment on the issue, defending the activity.

Some people say, ‘Well, it’s always been that way,’ but when you walk the neighborhood, you’ll see the quality of the homes,” he said. 

Rick Scalia, a landlord who operates two buildings in the neighborhood, including one across the street from Murphy, said he receives conflicting reports from his neighbors. While he regularly hears from Murphy, he said other neighbors, when asked, told him this year’s tenants “were fine.” 

“I think it’s a few people blowing it out of proportion,” he said Tuesday. 

But, he said, he agrees that some of the houses in the area “have gone crazy.”

“Now that the heat’s on, so to speak, I passed that on to my tenants,” he said, referring to the moratorium and recent city discussions. “It just can’t go like that anymore.” 

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Residents say the White Street neighborhood was once home to Bates College professors, doctors and professionals. A number of the large older houses have been sold and turned into student residences. 

White Street in Lewiston is in a residential neighborhood with large older houses.

The house at 254 Oak St. is at the top of White Street. It is known in the neighborhood as the “football house” because it houses members of the Bates football team. Local residents say the house is also known for its residents’ drunken behavior.

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