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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Ridgewood lodging license approved

Published: September 19, 2008
Section: Front Page

The Waltham Licenses and Franchises Committee approved a lodging house license for the Ridgewood Residence Halls at their meeting Monday night after a lengthy discussion about student behavior and discipline.

Brandeis first requested the lodging house license at the Waltham City Council meeting Sept. 8. At that meeting, their request prompted concern and annoyance from committee members upset over its timing – construction on Ridgewood began over a year ago – and the behavior of off-campus students.

The council sent the request to the Licenses and Franchises Committee, chaired by Ward 9 councilor Robert Logan. At Monday’s meeting, Logan, whose district includes Dartmouth Street, said that the committee was reticent to approve the license because of their aggravation with parties and disturbing behavior on Dartmouth Street.

Present at the meeting were Vice-President of Campus Operations Mark Collins, Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan, Projects Manager Deborah Elliott, and legal representative Michael Connors. A member of the Waltham Police Department, Lt. Joe Brooks, was also present to address the committee’s worries regarding discipline and off-campus students’ behavior.

“We’ve had a few issues down there,” said Lt. Brooks referring to Dartmouth Street. However, he added, “the activity that’s down there is much less than in previous years.”

Brooks also explained that Waltham Police officers visited 30 houses Sept. 6 to address “concerns ranging from parties to trash.”

While there have been reports of loud parties in the last month, Brooks explained to the committee that students have been cooperative and the university has been responsive. When asked if the lines of communication between Waltham law enforcement and Brandeis were open, Brooks said, “it couldn’t be better.”

The conversation then returned to issues of discipline.

Councilor at large Paul Brasco commented, “Brandeis has been responsive over the past few years…I do want to see at some point a policy about discipline. I want to see a notice that Waltham will not tolerate misbehavior.”

As reported last week, a joint letter from the Mayor’s office and the university detailing appropriate behavior was issued to all students living off campus at the beginning of the school year.

When he was first elected, said Ward 7 Councilor Joseph Giordano, “I literally got calls every weekend. Those first few years were horrendous.” Brandeis is located in the city’s seventh ward.

He added, “I do commend Brandeis. They work very closely with me.” Even so, Giordano supported a move to increase on-campus housing capacity in order to “get them off the streets of Waltham.”

At this point Councilor at large Sally Collura turned the questioning in the direction of police involvement on campus. Callahan explained that the university does call the Waltham Police Department for support. Brooks and Callahan then described some of the incidents associated with Pachanga that required police intervention, including the assault of Brandeis and Waltham officers.

“Hey, I was young once,” said Collura, “but I didn’t assault any officers.”

Giordano added, “we need to be thankful that Brandeis does have the foresight to have the Waltham Police involved when they have these big gatherings.”

Later in the week, Callahan commented, “they want to make sure their constituents are happy…[the committee] had legitimate questions and we gave them answers.”

In an e-mail message, Collins explained, “I…think Lt. Brooks and the City Councilors have serious expectations that off-campus housing residents will conduct themselves in a manner that respects their neighbors, the City of Waltham, and its residents. In essence that means no loud parties, no underage drinking, no public drinking, no alcohol abuse, no late night lingering on neighborhood streets.”

He added, “it was made crystal clear to me that these behaviors will not be tolerated and students will face consequences if they engage in these sorts of activities.”

Once the conversation turned to the approval of the lodging license, Logan made it clear that just as students must conform to a standard of behavior, so must the Brandeis administration.

“Brandeis has a number of licenses which they renew annually,” said Logan, “it’s not as if they don’t know.”

Connors responded, “it was merely an oversight. Once it came to light, we applied. They don’t have new dorms very often.”

“Somebody needs to make sure all permits are applied for,” Logan countered. “No permit you apply for is by right. This council has the absolute right to turn it down.”

Logan was not the only committee member annoyed with the Brandeis community. Earlier in the night, Ward 4 Councilor Thomas Curtin, exasperated with another issue, exclaimed, “I’m getting cranky chairman and I haven’t even gotten to the Brandeis people yet. I’m just warming up for them.”

Even so, the committee unanimously approved the lodging license as a way to decrease the number of students living off-campus. Logan, however, did ask if the university had any intent to increase the student population. He explained that he did want to see a cycle develop where an increase in on-campus housing capacity meant an increase in the student population.

Collins responded that presently, there is no such plan. He added that currently, 80% of students live in on-campus housing. The opening of Ridgewood will increase that number by two or three percent.

Ultimately, Logan said, the council does appreciate Brandeis’ presence in the community, “but [the university] must be sensitive to its impacts.”

Ariel Wittenberg contributed to this report.