Of all the single-family rentals housing University of Connecticut students in Mansfield, just 3.5% were responsible for all 39 citations issued to disruptive student households in the spring 2016 semester, said assistant planner and zoning enforcement officer Janell Mullen at a Town and University Relations Committee meeting on Tuesday.
The “whack-a-mole” pop-up parties hosted by this minority of students culminated in a massive house party at 940 Storrs Road last weekend that temporarily shut down Route 195 and trashed the property of an adjacent church, Mayor Shapiro said.
“Most of the UConn students are good kids, most of them respect themselves and respect their neighbors. A relatively small percentage of the students are a disproportionately large percentage of the problem,” Shapiro told the committee.
In many of these cases, the town committee noted that the landlords are not Mansfield residents. “Problematic properties often have non-local owners who are less responsive to the needs of neighbors,” Mullen said.
The answer, according to former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, is for landlords and town officials to get on the same page when it comes to managing student rentals. It’s the only way for Mansfield to maintain its family friendly appeal, she said.
“One of the most important things we can continue to do as a community is to work with landlords, and if those landlords don’t want to work with us we should bring the hammer down,” Patterson said. “If they’re not on board and they’re not thinking along the same lines that we are, it’s not going to work no matter what we do.”
The Ad Hoc Committee on Rental Regulations/Neighborhood Preservation recently recommended the town council consider lowering the bi-yearly rental fee for landlords whose properties passed inspection and had not been subject to a complaint, said town manager Matt Hart at the meeting.
“This would be to incentivize landlords to manage their property in a responsible manner,” Hart added.
Mansfield residents are no strangers to college party culture, but the UConn scene is undergoing a change. Student festivities have spread from traditionally popular locations like Celeron Apartments and Carriage House Townhomes into the wider Storrs area, and attendance has swelled from an upper limit of 150 to over 300 students, said John Armstrong, director of Off-Campus Student Services.
OCSS is looking into the organizational basis of these parties, particularly in relation to fraternities and sororities, but Armstrong said mediation can have a powerful impact on even the most devoted party animals.
“Those conversations are impactful, I see tremendous success and very few issues after having those meetings,” Armstrong said.
While he recognized that many residents, most notably the Mansfield Neighborhood Preservation Group, are against expanding off-campus student housing in any capacity, Shapiro said that further development of multi-family apartment complexes could be a partial solution to the high rate of single-family housing conversions in town.
Mansfield’s ongoing nine month moratorium on multi-family housing development, which has delayed zoning applications from multiple developers, could end in as little as five or six months depending on how long it takes to draft and receive comments on the new regulations, said Linda Painter, director of Planning and Development. Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission have committed to expediting the process, according to Painter.
“The devil is in the details, so a lot of this will come down to, as we put the details forward, how much discussion and debate there will be,” Painter said.
The committee also discussed the status of area utilities in relation to UConn.
The ongoing Stage III Water Supply Watch is anticipated to become a Stage IV water supply emergency within the next few days, said UConn Environmental Compliance manager Jason Coite. Coite said residents and students should strive to conserve water by taking shorter showers, refraining from washing cars and doing fuller loads of laundry.
“Things have been dry. The rivers by UConn are the lowest I’ve seen in my 10 years here,” Coite said.
The new sewer system currently under construction on Route 195, a joint project between UConn and Connecticut Water, is not expected to significantly improve drought conditions, Coite said.
Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.