March 10, 2004

More Noise Over Ordinance

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Noisy, rowdy and destructive partying was, once again, the topic of debate, as members of the Ithaca community met to discuss the future of city noise standards and enforcement last night. Residents, landlords, city officials, and representatives from Ithaca College and Cornell convened at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church to critique a proposed noise ordinance that has, in recent weeks, inspired heated debate, especially among students, landlords, and permanent Ithaca residents.

According to Michael Taylor ’05 (D-4th Ward), moderator of the event, the forum was organized to foster conversation between tenants, students, landlords, and other parties directly effected by obtrusive noise and its enforcement in hopes that an effective, fair noise ordinance policy can be considered by the Common Council in April. As it reads now, the proposal, which is inspired by an East Lansing, Mich. noise ordinance, has been specifically criticized as a mechanism that will further cultivate animosity between college students and city residents. These concerns, among others, were explicitly stated at a City Governance Committee event last month, convincing Common Council members that the ordinance needed to be adjusted before April.

“The noise ordinance, as written now, won’t do the job,” stated Taylor. In addition to the possible student-resident antagonism that might ensue as a result of the ordinance, Taylor noted the proposal’s other problematic technicalities, including a clause that would essentially consider each half-hour of noise violation as a separate offense.

Residents began the conversation by describing the noisy, violent and aggravating behavior that often characterizes college partying.

“[We are surrounded by] parties that are uncontrolled [and] noise that goes on at inappropriate times,” said Frances Weissman, a 26-year resident of Collegetown.

Illustrating the party-related vandalism that she has witnessed in the past, Weissman referred to the destruction of a her front yard fence, landscaping damage, and a bizarre event in which a partier startled her in the middle of the night by mounting a fence against her front porch.

However, Weissman, like many other forum attendees, insisted that students are not the only people to be blamed in this matter. She argued that these situations also lack law enforcement, university involvement, and proper attention from landlords.

“You are living under conditions that are unacceptable too,” she said, addressing student attendees. “[Your housing is] overpriced and under-maintained.”

This claim inspired contrary responses from landlords in the community, who argued that while, ultimately, landlords should not be held accountable for student behavior, they are not neglecting their property or their tenants.

Chris Anagnost ’65, a Collegetown landlord, insisted that, in general, landlords do not irresponsibly neglect their tenants or their property, and therefore the noise ordinance should target the offenders through effective law enforcement, not the landlords. The proposed ordinance includes consequences for landlords whose tenants violate noise regulations.

“If we can’t get the police to act on our behalf, what are we supposed to do? Landlords represent a large tax-paying population of the city. I think we should be supported as property owners,” Anagnost said.

Student attendees argued that the ordinance unfairly targets college parties by tagging on extra penalties for noise violations that are accompanied by aggravated offenses such as the presence of a keg or live entertainment.

“[The proposal] unfairly targets student parties,” said Devan Musser ’05, executive vice president of the Interfraternity Council. “This is not going to result in the solution we want because it will lead to resentment from students.”

In response to this claim, Weissman asserted that residents have no intention of singling out college students.

“People are not targeting students, they are targeting behavior,” she said.

Joel Zumoff (D-3rd Ward) was of the same opinion.

“The intent for this legislation is not to prevent students from having a good time,” he said. “Students can have all the fun they want as long as there aren’t consequences [for their neighbors] the next day.”

Students, residents and landlords alike agreed that the lack of consistent law enforcement is largely to blame for ongoing, reckless party behavior.

“We should have money in the budget to enforce all of these problems,” said Anagnost, responding to Common Council claims that the city lacked the necessary funding to expand law enforcement. “Where do all these fines go?”

Because the East Lansing municipal government has been accused of unfairly targeting and disenfranchising students, and because of the student-resident rift that its policies have produced, Common Council members are seeking alternative approaches to the proposed noise ordinance. One alternative approach increases the severity of the noise violation fines instead of attaching additional consequences for aggravated offenses.

Archived article by Ellen Miller