Published March 13, 2014
UB and its South Campus stakeholders now have a potent new weapon to help improve the neighborhood: each other.
Community leaders have teamed up with UB representatives, including students, to form a quality of life task force to address many of the issues residents raised about students at the start of the academic year.
Neighbors’ complaints ranged from intoxicated students urinating on their property to loud house parties that went on long into the night on weekends. While these issues have created friction between residents and UB, both parties agree that a community-based, collaborative approach is the best way to mitigate the problem.
“We put this task force together to work toward solutions,” says Mickey Vertino, president of the University Heights Collaborative. The task force comprises community leaders, as well as the presidents of UB’s undergraduate and graduate student associations, and representatives from several UB offices.
The group held its first official meeting Jan. 27.
“The bigger issue here is not only the quality of life for people who live in the neighborhood, but also the danger this presents for the students who go to these parties where there are so many people that it makes it difficult for them to get out if they had to,” adds Vertino.
“We are actively working with the community to come up with solutions,” says Michael Pietkiewicz, UB assistant vice president for government and community relations. “We are paying close attention and there is progress being made.”
While UB students do live in the University District, UB officials stress they need to create solutions that work for students who live in nearby Eggertsville and Amherst as well. “What we’re trying to do is make this about a community, not just a few streets,” says Dan Ryan, director of off-campus housing. “We have more students living in Eggertsville and Amherst than University Heights, and each group of students has different needs.”
Some residents have questioned the need for 24-hour busing of UB students. But students like Sam McMahon, president of the undergraduate Student Association, say it’s an essential service. “Between late classes, research and student jobs, many students have a legitimate need for late-night bus service,” says McMahon.
“The busing is also essential for student safety. It’s unlikely that college students will stop attending parties, and eliminating 24/7 busing only increases the likelihood of drunk-driving accidents. Student safety should be everyone’s first concern. Our Student Affairs department has been working with other organizations on campus to begin educating students on how to choose safe and fair student housing off campus,” he adds.
During peak weekend evening ridership times, a UB police officer is stationed at the North and South campus Stampede stops to ensure students’ safety.
UB Police note that it’s rare for a student to be stopped for drunken driving, saying this is largely attributed to the transportation system the university provides for its students, who pay for it out of their student fees. During the fall semester, UB Police conducted a DWI checkpoint in conjunction with the Erie County Stop DWI program. Only one student was charged with DWI out of the hundreds of motorists who drove through the checkpoint.
“The University at Buffalo Police work closely with both the Amherst and Buffalo police departments on a daily basis,” says UB Police Chief Gerald W. Schoenle Jr. “These collaborative efforts continue 24/7 in making all of the communities safer for our students, faculty and staff.”
While UB police do not have jurisdiction to patrol the University District streets, a memorandum of understanding exists between UB and Buffalo police stating that both agencies can seek the other’s assistance on a call if necessary.
The university offers events throughout the year that bring students and neighbors together. “Over the past several years, we’ve seen more collaboration among students, young alumni and the neighborhood,” says Linwood Roberts of UB’s Office of Community Relations. “We have come leaps and bounds.”
On Jan. 20, some three dozen UB students participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, helping out in the neighborhood. “There are a lot of good students and a lot of good people out here trying to do the right thing,” says Vertino. “We’re working with our city leaders and we’re going to keep marching forward to make this community better and build a positive relationship with UB.”
The newly formed task force also has the support of area elected officials.
“This task force is a big step in the right direction toward addressing quality-of-life issues that affect every resident of the University District,” says state Sen. Tim Kennedy. “Over the past few weeks, I have spoken to dozens of residents in the area about what neighbors, students, government and UB can do to address long-standing problems. I am confident that together, working with the task force, we can facilitate the dialogue that is needed to develop effective solutions, and I look forward to contributing however I can.”
“To see such cooperation between UB and local residents is the very definition of what it means to be a community,” says Assemblyman Ray Walter. “I’m excited to see what kind of creative ideas and solutions come out of this new union and look forward to offering any assistance moving forward.”
Adds Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes: “I applaud UB and the University Heights Collaborative for spearheading this group and taking the initiative to address residents’ concerns. Our goal, along with our stakeholders, is to improve the overall safety for homeowners and students, business owners and patrons, while also improving community relations, communication and the University District as a whole.”
I think it is quite well-documented that the UBPD could do more to stop the hordes of intoxicated students that descend on the University Heights community on any given weekend. The mind-boggling numbers of buses going to and from the North and South campuses are totally unnecessary. Other arrangements could be made for students returning to either campus after work. I have personally observed pairs of "Stampede" buses arriving at the Hayes loop in 10-14-minute intervals. Very few students were on either bus. Not only is this extremely poor use of student fees, but it causes unnecessary pollution.
While the UBPD is geographically limited in its jurisdiction, I believe its charge is for the campus and contiguous streets. My interpretation would be at least the one side of Winspear that has the South Campus as its backyard view.
In my opinion, there is a lot more "policing" that could and should be accomplished, and it could certainly start with the arrest and punishment of intoxicated, underage students riding the buses to and from the two campuses.