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Towson

Council members propose expanding reach of law to deter loud parties near Towson University

Three Towson-area County Councilmembers introduced legislation Jan. 17 to expand a county pilot program designed to discourage unruly parties in neighborhoods near Towson University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

The bill seeks to add to the program parts of West Towson, Knettishall, Loch Raven Village and Rodgers Forge. The program currently applies to seven neighborhoods east of York Road: Aigburth Manor, Burkleigh Square, Knollwood-Donnybrook, Overbrook, Towson Manor Village, Wiltondale and part of northeast Towson. It also applies to a part of Arbutus, near the UMBC campus.

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The Social Host Unruly Social Gatherings pilot program, which the council passed in January 2016, carries penalties for any gathering of four or more people in a home in designated areas near the universities if the gathering includes conduct that disturbs the peace. The measure holds tenants and landlords accountable for the violations.

For a first violation a "responsible person," meaning a tenant, organizer or anyone who accepts responsibility for the gathering, is issued a civil fine of $500 and 20 hours of community service, while the landlord is given a warning notice. For the second violation the tenant is fined $1,000 and given 32 hours of community service, and the landlord a $500 fine.

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For the third and subsequent penalties, the tenant is issued a $1,000 fine and 48 hours of community service, and the landlord is given a $1,000 fine and faces potential suspension of his or her rental license.

Since it went into effect last year, local officials and some community members have said they have seen a decrease in noise and unruly, loud parties and gatherings in the affected neighborhoods.

"We believe that the ordinance has helped in reducing the number of nuisance houses," said Capt. Jay Landsman Jr., commander of the Baltimore County Police Department's Towson precinct. Landsman added that since the council passed the bill, police have issued 19 citations in Towson.

Police have issued a second citation in only one instance, Landsman said, adding that the fact that landlords are notified through the ordinance seems to have a deterrent effect on students.

When the law was first enacted, Towson officials informed students of the new rule in a letter sent to all off-campus students with a Towson ZIP code in their address, according to Deb Moriarty, vice president of student affairs. A group of Towson students called "community ambassadors" also went to neighborhoods where issues have occurred in the past, such as Towson Manor and Burkleigh Square, and distributed postcards containing information about the new ordinance.

Because the law is a pilot, the council must renew it by January 2018 for it to stay in effect.

Expanding reach

The Jan. 17 legislation to expand the program is sponsored by Councilman David Marks, who represents most of Towson, Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents part of Loch Raven Village and Knettishall, and Councilman Wade Kach, who represents Baltimore County north of Interstate 695.

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Marks said he believed it was time to extend the program's reach, given that it has worked in the original neighborhoods, adding that he focused on adding areas to the program that contain a significant number of students rental properties.

The area of West Towson he proposes to add the bill is bounded to the north by I-695, to the east by Dulaney Valley Road, to the west by North Charles Street and to the south by West Joppa Road west of Bosley Avenue and Allegheny Avenue east of Bosley Avenue. Marks also proposed adding Rodgers Forge to the program at a community meeting there Jan. 11, and the suggestion was well received.

Bevins said she joined Marks in sponsoring the bill on the suggestion of residents from Loch Raven Village and Knettishall, in East Towson.

Bryan Fischer, the vice president of the Knettishall Community Association, said he submitted a request Jan. 6 to Bevins to have both communities added to the program, with approval from Loch Raven Village.

Towson University is designated as a growth institution for the state. In the coming years the school hopes to boost enrollment from about 22,000 to 25,000 students.

Fischer, who is also president of the community association umbrella group, the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said he submitted his request with that growth in mind.

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"There [are] going to be more students moving out into the broader Towson area, and we thought this was going to be an excellent way to have good relations with those students and their landlords," Fischer said.

Aigburth Manor Community Association Vice President Paul Hartman said the program has had a positive impact in his neighborhood. Hartman, who also helped craft the policy, said some residents have reported a decline in large groups of students walking through neighborhoods at 2 a.m., headed home from bars.

The university's late-night shuttle has also added stops at Donnybrook and Cardiff Hall Apartments, Hartman said, which may have also had an impact on the number of students walking late at night, as those students might have previously walked through residential neighborhoods on their way home.

Gay Pinder, a spokeswoman for Towson University confirmed that stops at Donnybrook Apartments had been added in the fall to a route that travels to downtown Towson. However, ridership to the new stop is low, she said in an email.

Greg Bauer, president of the Burkleigh Square Community Association, said he believes the program has significantly reduced problems with noise and disruption in the neighborhood. Of 89 houses in the community, 33 are rental units, most of which are occupied by students, Bauer said, adding that some of those students behaved as if they were in the movie, "Animal House."

"The social host ordinance has really curtailed a lot of that partying," he said.

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The council will discuss the bill at a work session Feb. 14, while a final vote is scheduled for Feb. 21.




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