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Published: Monday, 9/20/2004

As students inch into Old Orchard, residents react

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER

"Look, we were all young once, and I have a high tolerance," said Ms. Cope, who has accented her Densmore Drive home with a rush of flowers, a collection of trickling fountains, and a rock-lined goldfish pond.

"But we have a limit. If you're going to have a party, keep it respectable and let your neighbors know what is happening. Blend in, and we'll all be fine," she said.

Ms. Cope, a Block Watch captain and the kind of person whose first impression is one of the neighbor who arrives with a warm apple pie when you move in, is a bit more hospitable than other Old Orchard residents these days.

Jennifer Cope, who lives on Densmore Drive in Old Orchard, takes a sanquine view of students who live in her neighborhood. 'We were all young once,' she says, ' and I have a high tolerance.' Jennifer Cope, who lives on Densmore Drive in Old Orchard, takes a sanquine view of students who live in her neighborhood. 'We were all young once,' she says, ' and I have a high tolerance.'
FRASER / BLADE Enlarge

Residents there are alarmed by the sight of more University of Toledo students moving into homes purchased for rental purposes, and the noise and litter - among other things - that have accompanied them.

"They were doing beer bongs in the driveway at 1:30 in the morning," said Middlesex Drive resident Michelle Dutkiewicz of some of her new neighbors.

At least one party turned violent: A 21-year-old man was taken to the hospital, drunk and bloody after an Aug. 21 party, and another partygoer was arrested after fighting with responding police officers.

"They moved in on Wednesday, and on Saturday morning we had what appeared to be an episode of Cops taking place on our street," said Stasia Hanson, a local attorney and longtime Densmore Drive resident. "It was unbelievable."

Police responding to a disturbance at a Densmore Drive house on Aug. 21 found Matthew Smith, 21, intoxicated and bloddy. Police responding to a disturbance at a Densmore Drive house on Aug. 21 found Matthew Smith, 21, intoxicated and bloddy.
Enlarge

Traditionally, complaints about unruly student behavior have come from other neighborhoods around UT, including Bancroft Hills, Byrne-Hill Estates, and Secor Gardens, said Bob Krompak, director of the Ottawa Community Development Corporation, one of the city's nonprofit neighborhood organizations.

For the first time this year, he said, a spattering of those complaints have come from Old Orchard - a neighborhood known for its Tudor homes, colorful landscaping, and streets with English names: Middlesex, Cheltenham, Pemberton.

And though the problems have been somewhat isolated, the concern from some of the university's northern neighbors across Bancroft Street is that the incidents are the beginning of a worrisome trend.

Cora Hammond can talk about that - vehemently.

The Block Watch leader of Byrne-Hill Estates - located on the opposite, or southern end of UT - she remembers more peaceful times in the neighborhood she's called home for 20 years. But about four years ago, she said, the flood of students began when a developer built several new rental homes.

Since then, Ms. Hammond said, "decent" people and their children have witnessed public urination, late-night parties, excessive litter, and women sun-bathing without their tops.

She calls the students an "infestation," or a "cancer."

"Look, I might sound hostile, and I'm sorry," she said, "But after four years of this? It's unnerving."

Ms. Hammond attended a Neighbor Relations Meeting last week sponsored by UT and attended by residents of the university's surrounding neighborhoods. It was there that she heard of the similar complaints from Old Orchard neighbors.

Ms. Hammond wasn't surprised.

"It was, 'Oh no, here we go again,'●" she said of her neighbors on the other side of the campus. "If it continues to happen and it catches on, it will ruin their neighborhood."

Gary and Marilyn Osborne looked at the costs of sending their two daughters to UT, and did some quick math: In addition to tuition, there was $4,500 in rent a semester for at least a couple of years, plus utilities, plus furniture to fill the unfurnished apartment.

It made sense: buy a house instead.

In July, they began searching, and just days before the beginning of school the Osbornes purchased a $155,000 brick home on Densmore Drive. Roommates can offset the cost with their rent, the Osbornes reasoned.

They're not alone.

A cursory review of records from the Lucas County auditor's office shows that owners are not the primary occupant in more than two dozen homes in the Old Orchard area. Some might be rentals. Others might be houses purchased by UT students - or their parents.

For Mrs. Dutkiewicz, the Middlesex homeowner, it's meant trash in her new neighbors' backyard and cars parked on the lawns. The four men who recently moved there are new students. Two are brothers; their parents bought the house, one of the men told her.

"They're nice boys. But they're 19, and they're away from home. They're not doing anything I didn't do at that age, I realize that."

The problem, Mrs. Dutkiewicz said, is that they're "living with people who spent a lot of time and money on [their] homes. This is not a dorm. This is not college apartments. This is not a frat house."

In fact, it was the Osbornes' home on Densmore that was the scene of the Aug. 21 party that turned violent.

But college students Anna Hosner and Rachel Fouse, who moved into their Cheltenham Avenue rental recently, argued that such an attitude is judging students too early.

"Yeah, we heard it: 'College students are moving in,'●" Ms. Fouse, a business major, said.

"It's not that we're angels, college kids. But we're pretty quiet really," added Ms. Hosner.

"You can't throw us out just because we're students," she said.

Carol and Joe Dunlap agree. They've lived on Densmore Drive for years and both sell real estate there.

Students, like anyone else, can prove to be bad - or good - neighbors, they said. For years, a nearby house was occupied by a string of medical students.

"Their cars would come and go," Mrs. Dunlap said, "but we never saw them. They were very quiet."

In fact, in terms of its seriousness at least, the Densmore party Aug. 21 remains an isolated incident in Old Orchard, said UT Police Officer Tressa Baskin.

In the same month, UT neighbors made 103 complaints or calls for service relating to students' behavior, but very few were from Old Orchard.

As the head of the department's community affairs, Officer Baskin works closely with Unit 618, a special two-man crew that consists of a UT and a Toledo police officer working specifically on the hot spots sparked when UT students clash with permanent neighbors.

The unit has extended its coverage northward this year to Central Avenue, to include all of Old Orchard.

Police issued more than 100 parking tickets so far this school year.

In addition, the university has set up a special hot line for resident complaints, and university brass continue to meet with residents to resolve them.

Some UT students simply need to be reminded of their setting and their responsibility. They'll disperse, or quiet down, or even reach out to their neighbors to make amends, Officer Baskin said.

There are some cases, however, that prove simply frustrating, she said.

"Sometimes the attitude is: 'Look, I'm studying all week. It's the weekend. Why can't I drink myself into a stupor if I want to?'●"

It's an attitude that concerns Earl Mack, head of the Toledo office of the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

He and undercover liquor agents were in the area on Aug. 21 when they responded to the Osbornes' Densmore home.

Mr. Mack and another officer were the first to arrive in an unmarked car.

Their headlights fell upon a crowd in the front yard and a young man on the ground, bleeding and unconscious.

"As soon as we pulled up, everyone began running," he said.

The officers called for backup and went to the aid of the bloodied man, who reeked of alcohol. Later identified as Matthew Smith, 21, of Canterbury Court, he was treated at Toledo Hospital and was charged with disorderly conduct.

Another man, identified as Nicholas Wittenberg, 20, of nearby Pemberton Drive, allegedly refused orders to back away from the scene that night.

He exchanged words and dropped a can of beer in an ensuing struggle with officers.

He faces underage possession of alcohol and other misdemeanor charges, according to a police report.

Mr. Osborne said he has since warned his daughters about having such parties and about the visitors who might appear.

Mr. Osborne noted that his daughters told him that the problems were outside the residence and with men who stopped by - a contention that the girls also told investigators, according to the police report.

"Sometimes it's a little harder to control boys who come over," Mr. Osborne said.

Now, he said, he's working to calm neighbors: "We don't want to be a disruption."

Ms. Hanson, the attorney who lives next door, said the student residents of the home have told her that such a scene won't be repeated.

She remains skeptical.

"I just don't know whether oil and water can mix," Ms. Hanson said.

"I don't think [students are] motivated by ill will. It's just they're so young."

Blade staff writer Kim Bates contributed to this report.

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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