Concern Over Noise Policy Continues

“Certain weekends are just very bad…I’ve called the police several times and I will do so in the future- these kids are just very loud and thoughtless.” This Burlington resident (name withheld) is referring to the noise and public disturbances caused by student parties in the downtown area. While university students and local residents have never been known to have any shared camaraderie, tensions between UVM students and the Burlington community seem to have risen to a head over the past year. Many town residents, like the one mentioned above, have grown increasingly upset with the weekend behavior of UVM students’ downtown. Residents blame students for late-night noise, drunken and obscene behavior and destructiveness. Now Burlington city councilors, led by council member Ian Carleton, are discussing increasing student fines for holding “noisy and raucous” parties. Currently, the penalty for being cited with a noise disturbance is a $100 fine for the party hosts, although most students are given only a warning the first time. Yet noise citations are particularly risky for students because once police notice an especially loud house, they are more apt to charge minors for drinking there, resulting in fines which sometimes can be as high as $200 per person. This past fall city councilors proposed a plan that would not only increase the fine for a first offense noise violation to $500 but also would enable police to fine party-goers as well as the hosts. A busted party of 20 students then, could feasibly bring in $10,000 to the city revenue. Also, the revised plan would make a second noise violation a criminal offense. Not surprisingly, students feel differently than Burlington homeowners about the noise ordinances issue. Some students seem to acknowledge the general nature of university life-“Why would they want to bust down on college students? College students are going to be loud.” Others feel that the proposed steep fines are simply a sign that community homeowners do not want to cooperate or even co-exist with UVM students, who comprise roughly 20% of the Burlington area population. Students complain of certain houses in town being placed under constant “surveillance” by the police and of neighbors over-exaggerating noise levels. One student recalls the $150 she was fined for having less than 20 people in her house early on a Friday evening. She says, “There was no music, nobody was intoxicated, and since it was September all the windows were open…(this fine) was totally illegitimate because…at least they could have just asked us to shut the windows first.” Still some students, like SGA president Jon Badaracco and senior Stephanie Bennett, are working to modify the city council’s strict fine increases. In hopes of finding some common ground on the noise ordinances debate, Bennett has organized a forum between Burlington area colleges to discuss downtown issues and noise violation concerns. She has also started a “downtown relations” committee. Badaracco has presented the city with a counter-proposal to their increased fines plan. The SGA wished to keep the current noise disturbance fine at $100 for a first offense but add 10 hours of community service work to the charge for the party hosts. Our SGA also wants to prevent the second offense from being considered a criminal charge.