Noise complaints call for action

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College students blamed for disturbances in the North End

Jenn Orr
Gianna Carchia

Journal Staff

It’s Friday night in the North End, and somewhere amidst this charming landscape of brick buildings, a party is getting busted. In clown car fashion, people shuffle out of a tiny apartment one by one, spilling into the streets and scattering. There has been yet another loud party complaint in the neighborhood, and the noise can only mean one thing:

Students are off to their usual shenanigans – partying, disturbing the peace, being disrespectful. At least that’s the word around town, and somebody has to take the blame.

In a recent post on NorthEndWaterfront.com, Matt Conti recapped a recent November meeting of the North End Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) Public Safety Committee meeting, which reported that Boston Police received 46 calls in the prior 30 days regarding loud parties and disruptive activities. Police, Conti said, attributed the majority of the noise to college students.

Noise complaints are not uncommon among the college community. In the last year, several Beacon Hill landlords banded together and decided to stop renting to students. This caused an influx of apartment-seeking undergrads and a migration to the next nearest neighborhood – the North End.

In an effort to combat the many disturbances, Boston City Councilors Mike Ross and Sal LaMattina have created the Problem Property Task Force (PPTF). Composed of the councilors and other community representatives, the group meets once a month to deal with disorderly conduct issues.

“We’ve been working with the universities, the police, and the representatives’ office; we need to stay on top of this before it gets out of hand,” said LaMattina. “Young people want to party, we’re asking them to be responsible to their neighbors. We’re encouraging people to call 911 so we can keep track of where these problems are.”

Conti’s article reported that Councilors Ross and LaMattina are currently working on policies regarding special lease terms for off-campus college students. There is a possible “three strikes and you’re out” rule under consideration, but it remains unclear if the goal is to alter behavior or drive students out of the North End.

“I’m hoping that landlords will stop renting to students and colleges will start building more dormitories,” conceded LaMattina.

He said he did not have anything against students. “But if they’re not going to behave in neighborhoods in apartments, then they shouldn’t be allowed to live there.”

When asked by the Journal which policy guidelines are currently in development, LaMattina dismissed the question and commented instead on the student impact on the rising costs of rent. And although the PPTF meets once per month to put together all data from phone calls and complaints to find which properties are frequently reported, he could not pinpoint the addresses of these problematic buildings – something that has become common knowledge among neighborhood residents.

In one incident, police broke up an Oct. 30 party at 94 Prince St. with more than 100 college-aged students, citing the host with disturbing the peace and keeping a disorderly house. LaMattina was questioned about the difference between current loud party policies included in leases (keeping a disorderly house) and ones he and Ross are developing:

“I don’t know if there’s a difference, just the ability for the police to cite them and give them a fine. I think both of them work together, but I don’t know.”

Stephen Passacantilli, president of the NEWNC and member of the PPTF, said that on several occasions the PPTF directly contacted PF North End Realty – the company that rents out several of the buildings in question. Repeated noise complaints have been associated with the same addresses, including 28 Fleet St., 214 Hanover St., and 224 Hanover St., Passacantilli confirmed. Some residents refer to these addresses as extra Suffolk dorms.

“Nothing really came of it,” Passacantilli said. He also implied that the company does not really keep tabs on its tenants because of constant student rental turnovers.

Passacantilli addressed the problem as relatively new in the neighborhood and acknowledged that just as Beacon Hill dealt with a large student population, so too will the North End – but in a different way.

“I would blame the landlords more than I would blame the students,” he asserted. “It’s their building, it’s their responsibility, but to them it’s just about, ‘We get our rent, let’s leave it alone.’ [But] for every absentee landlord who doesn’t care, there’s four or five landlords who do the right thing.”

Passacantilli, who has been a lifelong North End resident, is familiar with neighborhood complaints. In his position as president, he deals with constant criticism ranging from trash to tourists. “So you can imagine that they’re going to complain about students.”

In a visitor-attracting neighborhood with a lively nightlife, keeping quiet is nearly impossible, and Passacantilli knows that. Unlike others addressing the issue, he is less eager to use students as scapegoats in dealing with all neighborhood disturbances.

“There’s going to be noise. We live in the North End. That’s the end of the story,” he said. “When people call in a noise complaint, it’s like, ‘I don’t know what to tell you. People are here. They love coming here.’”

Some residents have gone as far as moving out of the North End because of the increased population and subsequent noise. “I would say the last five to seven years that [the noise problem] has become increasingly worse,” said Keri Cassidy, North End resident and co-owner of Mercato del Mare on Salem Street.

Cassidy has lived in the North End for 17 years, and like many other long-time residents, she has witnessed a major neighborhood demographic shift in the form of young people. Her business partner, Liz Ventura, moved out of the neighborhood after 15 years of residency because of the noise that inevitably comes with a younger crowd rolling into town.

“You can’t just blame it all on the students,” Ventura said. “It’s just become an overwhelmingly young neighborhood and they like to party. It’s the 20-something professionals; it’s the 30-something professionals [too].”

So where do Suffolk students stand in all of this? Some believe the entire issue at hand is being highly embellished, such as sophomore and Fleet Street resident Erika Ciccariello, who claims that “the amount of complaints is being exaggerated. My roommates and I have had many parties but the cops have only been called once, barely ever causing a complaint.”

Other students say that although undergrads are hosting parties and should be held accountable for disruptive actions, there are multiple sources of noise in the neighborhood.

“There are bars in the North End too. We’re not the only ones making noise,” said Mike Gesualdi, Suffolk junior and Fleet Street resident. “Not every Suffolk student living in the North End is throwing a huge party. It’s unfair to punish everyone when it’s just a few people causing a problem.”

In the end, what it comes down to is reaching a compromise. “I like having students here,” Passacantilli concluded. “How do we protect the residents who live here, have families here, who want to stay here? How do we make it a livable neighborhood? It’s new to us, so this is gonna take some time, but I’m confident we’ll figure it out.”