September 8, 2008

Noise Violations Stack Up Against Cornell Students

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Number of sweaty college kids squeezed into the confines of a small Collegetown house: 78. Quantity of red and blue cups strewn around the residence: 52. Amount owed to the Ithaca Police Department due to noise violations: too pricey to joke about.
Over the past two and a half weeks, Collegetown residents have accrued a wave of noise ordinance violations issued by the Ithaca Police Department, creating frustration amongst the students.
“Noise travels beyond property lines, and consideration of any neighbor, student or not, should always be in front of any perceived ‘right to party,’” said Deputy Chief of Cornell Police Kathy Zoner.
According to the City of Ithaca Noise Ordinance, a noise violation can be distributed when a party or social event produces disruptive noise that carries at least 25 feet. Until April 2004, “disrupted” members of the neighborhood had to report the loud noise. Now, no complaints are necessary to warrant a visit from the police.
“I find it very scary that a government can pass a piece of legislation that is so border-line unconstitutional,” said Ryan Lavin ’09, president of Student Assembly.
Lavin grounded his argument in a critique of the short distance that the noise must travel, as well as the absence of a warning system.
“[It’s] not consistent with how any legislative system makes laws,” he said.
Lavin also found fault in the fact that the IPD can legally administer multiple tickets to a single residence.
“When they give out one noise ordinance ticket, it’s going to break up the party; everyone is going to go home. Why are they are not giving out one — why are they giving out five?” Lavin asked.
Lavin referred to a Collegetown residence that had recently received five tickets for a particular social event, each for $500.
Mike Adler ’10 recalled a house on Cook St. that received five violations on a single night, and Jen Lin ’09 referred to a residence on College Ave. that has received four. Though the IPD cannot report statistics regarding the total number of noise violations, Joel Zumoff (D-3rd Ward) alleged that he had heard that the number of violations given in the first week after students returned to Ithaca was a “couple hundred.”
Ross Freilich ’09, another Collegetown resident, said that on Aug. 26 his house was fined $1,050 after appearing in court to address the violation, which came to $175 per resident.
Earlier that evening, Freilich went door-to-door to his neighbors’ homes, notifying them that his house would be having a party that evening.
“I gave them all my number and said if there’s a problem to call me,” he said.
No one called.
“I think students are motivated to go around to their neighbors because the police don’t need a warning,” Lavin noted.
Lavin argued that the legislation as it stands discourages students from working with members of the Ithaca community.
Therefore, according to some, not only do the noise violations prove financially detrimental, but they also weaken the community cohesion.
“I think the large [number] of noise violations has a deteriorating effect on our community,” said Svante Mryick ’09 (D-4th Ward). “Students come to dislike and distrust both their neighbors — who they believe have complained against them — and the police. Many students end up feeling bitter towards the City of Ithaca, its police department, and their own neighbors.”
While some feel that noise violations seem to erode open communication, others claim that communication amongst community members could ease the frustration of Collegetown residents.
“Lines get drawn just because people don’t know each other,” said Gary Stewart, deputy director in government and community relations. But if students could hear from police, elected officials and permanent residents at organized forums that foster feedback rather than “on a lawn at 1:00 in the morning,” Stewart explained, more steps could be taken in a positive direction.
“Nothing can change if you don’t work within the system on issues like this,” Stewart said.
Stewart also mentioned that, in order to offer an alternative to Collegetown partying, the University wants to organize more events on campus in the beginning of the semester.
A previous student resident of Collegetown himself, Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’69 explained that while Collegetown harbors both family life and the natural proclivities of students, some middle-ground does exist.
“I trust that we’ll find that middle-ground soon,” he said.