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Year-round residents near UMass Amherst take action

  • Maurianne Adams looks out from the deck of her Beston Street home in Amherst, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Maurianne Adams looks out from the deck of her Beston Street home in Amherst, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Maurianne Adams walks her dog, Rip, around her Beston Street neighborhood in Amherst, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Maurianne Adams walks her dog, Rip, around her Beston Street neighborhood in Amherst, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Maurianne Adams looks out from the deck of her Beston Street home in Amherst, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Maurianne Adams looks out from the deck of her Beston Street home in Amherst, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Maurianne Adams greets a student on McClellan Street during a walk with her dog, Rip, around her Amherst neighborhood, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Maurianne Adams greets a student on McClellan Street during a walk with her dog, Rip, around her Amherst neighborhood, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Maurianne Adams, right, and her dog, Rip, greet Annie Pollok of Leverett, a music student of Adams' neighbor Debbi Friedlander, during a walk around the Beston Street neighborhood in Amherst.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Maurianne Adams, right, and her dog, Rip, greet Annie Pollok of Leverett, a music student of Adams' neighbor Debbi Friedlander, during a walk around the Beston Street neighborhood in Amherst.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Maurianne Adams poses in the garden of her Beston Street home in Amherst, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Maurianne Adams poses in the garden of her Beston Street home in Amherst, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Maurianne Adams looks out from the deck of her Beston Street home in Amherst, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Maurianne Adams walks her dog, Rip, around her Beston Street neighborhood in Amherst, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Maurianne Adams looks out from the deck of her Beston Street home in Amherst, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Maurianne Adams greets a student on McClellan Street during a walk with her dog, Rip, around her Amherst neighborhood, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Maurianne Adams, right, and her dog, Rip, greet Annie Pollok of Leverett, a music student of Adams' neighbor Debbi Friedlander, during a walk around the Beston Street neighborhood in Amherst.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Maurianne Adams poses in the garden of her Beston Street home in Amherst, a few blocks east of the University of Massachusetts Southwest Residential Area. Adams, a former UMass professor, is a spokesperson for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, the group behind the push for a new town bylaw that establishes a permitting system for landlords.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Year-round residents living near the University of Massachusetts Amherst are forming coalitions, pushing for rental and zoning bylaws and, in some cases, packing up and moving away to escape rowdy student behavior.

Last fall, residents in those neighborhoods pooled their money to hire a West Springfield security firm to patrol the neighborhood, which stands in the shadow of the UMass campus. The security company has been able to identify trouble spots in the neighborhood and report them to police. One was an illegal off-campus bar that had been attracting droves of students to a house on nearby Phillips Street. Fourteen students ended up in court.

Neighbors, tired of seeing single-family homes gobbled up by investors and turned into rental homes that attract more students, cars, noise and trash, formed the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods. The group of about 40 people banded together to propose bylaw and zoning changes that attempt to keep student-rental sprawl in check.

“It was a landmark time. We took initiative rather than being reactive,” said Maurianne Adams, a UMass professor emeritus who lives on McClure Street. “Up to this point we were being reactionary and feeling relatively helpless.”

Town Manager John Musante launched the Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods initiative and had a working group of town and UMass officials, residents and landlords craft a proposed bylaw to require landlords to obtain rental permits that can be revoked for certain town bylaw and public safety violations. Amherst Town Meeting will vote on it in May. The coalition pushed for such rental permitting and has offered a competing warrant article.

More recently, the group backed proposals to create historic protection districts both in North Amherst and in the Fearing, Sunset and Lincoln neighborhoods, an area adjacent to the UMass campus, with the intent of restricting development or renovations that are out of character with the area.

“What we’re trying to do is maintain the balance so families don’t sell out and move out of Amherst which is going to be the consequence otherwise,” Adams said.

But that’s what’s happening.

The number of residents ages 25 to 44 decreased from 7,323 in 1990 to 4,009 by 2010 — a 45 percent drop. The number of school-aged children dropped by 10 percent over this time, according to the Town of Amherst Housing Production Plan.

The report says part of the problem is affordability: rents have been forced upward by heavy competition for leased housing from the growing student population — about 7,400 UMass students lived off-campus in Amherst in 2010. This puts families — who can’t split the rent four ways, like a house full of students can — at a disadvantage.

And UMass has plans to increase its undergraduate enrollment by about 1,900 students by 2020.

“It’s the problem that is the biggest friction point in any college town — when students go into off-campus housing,” said Kim Griffo, executive director of the International Town & Gown Association in South Carolina. “We’re seeing more and more neighborhood associations getting a lot of traction on this issue.”

Market tight

Pushing tension between residents and students to the breaking point is the lack of housing construction in Amherst over the last 20 years.

In particular, there’s been a dearth of large-scale apartment complex development capable of housing hundreds of students in a single location. When multi-unit projects have been proposed, residents concerned about changing neighborhood character have been able to block them. A proposal for a 170-apartment complex in North Amherst is now drawing protests.

UMass has plans to add a 1,500-bed residential hall to its campus by the fall, and there are preliminary plans to build dorms later. The added rooms are expected to increase the ratio of students living on campus by a few points. The university houses about 60 percent of its undergraduate students on campus, a figure that puts UMass ahead of many of its peers, according to a comparative review on College Prowler, a website for students attempting to chose a college. Most flagship state universities house 30 to 45 percent of undergraduate students on campus.

Without more private development, many expect the housing crunch to persist.

In this climate, buying a home near the UMass campus and renting it to students is almost guaranteed money. Few Amherst and Hampshire college students live off campus. In 2012, fewer than 400 Amherst and Hampshire college students lived in town, off campus, according to the housing production plan.

And while landlords say they do all they can to lease to responsible tenants, their customer base remains the same: young college students who are tasting their first year of freedom. That often translates into late-night partying and disruptive behavior that disturbs neighbors.

Offers they can’t refuse

Some residents have taken the drastic step of selling their homes and moving to escape it.

Michael R. Dietrich, a Dartmouth College professor, sold his house on McClure Street last fall and moved to Triangle Street because he could no longer tolerate the chaos. Among the most annoying situations he endured was listening to a student at a nearby residence solicit women on the street through a megaphone. That went on for two months as the student eluded police.

Four of the six homes abutting Dietrich’s were owned and occupied by families when he moved to Amherst in 2005, a figure that would dwindle to two. Yards were turned into parking lots, he said, and late-night noise increased. Dietrich recalled how some drivers in a nearby parking area would relieve themselves within sight of his daughter’s bedroom window.

“We wanted to live there because we liked being part of the community,” Dietrich said. “When we bought our house, it was almost all faculty members on our street.”

But when property investor Patrick Conroy from Quincy came over and gave him a reasonable offer for his home, Dietrich grabbed it.

His new home on Triangle Street, where there are also student rentals, provides some relief. “We still have noise, but it’s a different kind of noise,” he said. “We don’t have people screaming at 1 a.m. as they walk down the street.”

Without being approached by an investor, it can be difficult to sell a home near the university.

Northampton Realtor David Murphy recalled a drunken crowd of students wearing Irish-themed clothing walking by during a showing of a South Prospect Street home on the weekend of the Barney Blowout.

“That always impresses buyers,” he said. “Would I say drunken college students in a herd running around is a negative to property values? Probably, yeah.”

Murphy’s firm is marketing a single-family home for sale at the end of Lincoln Avenue, not far from Dietrich’s former house.

Murphy said there have always been a lot of students in the neighborhoods around the UMass campus, but, in his view, behavior has worsened.

“Any disruptive behavior is not an attractive residential feature,” he said. “Neighborhoods shouldn’t be allowed to roll over into uncontrolled rental housing.”

Not everyone living within the midst of the off-campus students has the same quality-of-life expectations, however.

Victor E. Guevara, a retired public school teacher, has lived on the front lines of the UMass campus for the past 30 years at 50 McClure St. The door to his home opens to views of the university’s towering buildings, a parking lot and students walking to and from classes.

Guevara said he isn’t struck by any significant changes in his neighborhood, other than that there seem to be more students moving about and more traffic. “I prefer the way that it used to be, but we are in a college town and next to the university and that’s the way it’s going to be,” he said.

A native of Puerto Rico whose wife studied and worked at UMass, Guevara said students may occasionally walk across his lawn, or he might find a beer can or two on his property, “but if you go to New York or San Juan, you find the same thing,” he said. “I love the area. The university has so many things going on.”

Everybody’s problem

Adams, the spokeswoman for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, said she doesn’t think the housing situation in Amherst will improve without town intervention. She’s seen the positive effects of the town, neighbors, landlords and students working together.

For example, Adams and other neighborhood residents had complaints about a rowdy house on Cosby Street. They approached students with no success. They called property owner James Cherewatti, but still there was no resolution. Then they contacted Jon Thompson, a code enforcement officer in Amherst hired as part of the Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods initiative. Thompson was able to get Cherewatti, the tenants and the neighbors together to hash out the issues.

“The student behavior turned around 180 degrees,” Adams said. “There’s a limit to what we can do on our own.”

Neighborhood residents and landlords interviewed said police have a role and understand that officers want a record of complaints so they know where the problems are. Those calls, however, don’t always translate into penalties under the relatively new nuisance bylaw, which has a higher bar than the town’s noise bylaw. Citations are often left up to an officer’s discretion at the scene.

Students have a role to play, as well. And some students are upset that they’re being left out of the conversation about solutions.

Evan Hutton, a UMass junior, lives off-campus in a house on Main Street. Because they live near downtown, Hutton said, he thinks his neighbors are more used to noise. He believes, however, that vehicle towing in Amherst is overly aggressive and targeted at students. Bylaws made to control keg purchases and noise were directed at students, he said, but he doubts any of his peers were consulted when they were passed. He says students bring money into the town and deserve more respect.

“It’s just not fair for us to be treated this way,” he said. “We are residents here. I think we should have a say in how the town votes and because we do provide a substantial amount of well-being for the town.”

Hutton recently wrote a column for the Daily Collegian, the university’s student newspaper, encouraging students to be more active in Amherst government by seeking Town Meeting seats. It turns out that a dozen UMass students and one Amherst College student won some of the slots that were up for election. There are 240 elected representatives in the town’s legislative body in addition to town officials.

Hutton said he understands the concerns of some residents, but thinks UMass students are being unfairly vilified.

“Sometimes the students are definitely in the wrong,” he said. “But it’s not a collective 26,000 bad people. I feel like the town feels like we’re all just bad students.”

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com. Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@gazettenet.com.

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