Fired-up community meeting explores University Heights crises
UB, City of Buffalo, students all opinionated on potential changes to neighborhood
Published: Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 01:10
Gloria J. Parks Community Center was packed with concerned University Heights citizens, Buffalo Police officers, students and a UB administrator on Monday night.
The area, which is home to thousands of students, is riddled with crime and unsafe housing conditions, but is also a go-to location for student nightlife.
Many of the 70-plus community members who attended the meeting were angry with the student-related problems that, they said, have been around for decades.
UB, the City of Buffalo and the University Heights Collaborative are coming together and attempting to find a solution.
Much of the room’s tension lay between UB and the Buffalo Police.
Mickey Vertino, the University Heights Collaborative president who hosted Monday night’s gathering, said the situation near South Campus is “getting out of control,” but urged everyone to not turn the discussion into a “blame game.”
There were three main points of contention throughout the meeting: Students shouldn’t live in the Heights without UB guardianship; UB shouldn’t drop its students off on South Campus late at night because many are drunk upon arrival and University Police should patrol the Heights; and Buffalo Police shouldn’t be held responsible for disciplining UB students.
Shutting down the 24-hour bus system
The UB Stampede bus system has been running 24 hours a day since 2009. Some students call it the “drunk bus.”
Many Heights residents said it is unacceptable that UB facilitates dropping off intoxicated students near bars or house parties. Assistant Vice President for Government and Community Relations Michael Pietkiewicz, the only UB representative present, said UB’s bus service allows students to go to the library on South Campus that is open 24 hours a day.
“There’s an 800-pound elephant in the room, and I will say it,” said Buffalo Police E-district Chief Kimberly Beaty, whose officers patrol the Heights. “On Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday night, there are not 800 students going to the library. And it’s creating a problem in this neighborhood.”
“And the Buffalo Police shouldn’t be responsible,” a community member added. “Why can’t the university police patrol the streets?”
Pietkiewicz argued that UPD has no jurisdiction in the district.
Should UB take a larger role in the Heights?
Rosline Righetti, who has lived on Merrimac Street for almost 60 years, said she is “ashamed that UB won’t take more ownership in the Heights.”
She said if UB won’t find a way for its police to patrol the neighborhood, it needs to, at minimum, police the buses that drop students off at South Campus.
“Last week, when I came home on Friday night, I counted when I was driving [on Main Street] 23 miles per hour, there were over 499 kids at 11:30,” Righetti said. “So when you say, ‘Don’t stop the buses,’ maybe what we can do is, before [students] get on the bus, make sure there’s no open containers.”
Many suggested UB should either not allow students to live in the houses on their own or it should take responsibility for students’ actions.
“This is not ‘The Heights;’ this is a family neighborhood,” a community member shouted. “UB is creating a culture promoting it [as student housing].”
The woman, who is a permanent resident, said students are bringing down home values in the neighborhood. Fraternities and sororities, some legal, some illegal, rent houses in the Heights. Some Greek Life members host house parties and, recently, because two of three Main Street bars have shut down, more students are flocking to house parties than usual.
The concerned woman said she sees “hundreds” of young people partying in her neighborhood, and she suffers from sleep deprivation from their loud gatherings. She said if the students don’t leave, she might have to.
“Trust me, you don’t want to lose homeowners like me who have doubled our home properties,” she said. “This should be stopped yesterday.”
UB has five apartment complexes on North Campus, which is located in Amherst, but it has no apartment complexes on South Campus, which is located in the city.
Herman Huntley, a resident of 63 Englewood Ave. for 10 years, lives next to a “party house” of male students. He said, this semester, they’ve had parties with “close to 100 people in the backyard and basement” every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“If you’re building the apartments in Amherst, keep your kids in Amherst,” Huntley said. “I want UB to have more accountability for its students.”