Boston’s City Council listened to resident feedback to a proposed Nuisance Control Ordinance, sponsored by the North End’s City Councilor, Sal LaMattina. (Video of the full hearing on October 25, 2012 can be viewed at the City Council Video Library, Docket #1052.)
With the exception of two young citizens in the music industry, all of the testimony heard at the hearing was in favor of the ordinance to address “harm and disturbances caused by unruly gatherings” in the Boston neighborhoods.
The nuisance ordinance filing is directly related to complaints from North End residents regarding loud parties. Ironically, the hearing was shortly before the Halloween holiday weekend when several loud party calls were logged by North Enders regarding rooftop parties.
According to sponsor LaMattina, “The goal of the ordinance is to create an ongoing dialogue between Boston Police, the City Agencies, property owners, tenants and when necessary, educational institutions. This ordinance does not prevent social gatherings nor does it discriminate against students and responsible absentee landlords.”
Noise and loud party complaints have become legendary in the densely populated North End, primarily attributed to college students and young professionals. In the proposed nuisance control ordinance, the first offense would likely be met only with a warning but a fine can also be imposed of $100. For the second and subsequent violations within one year, the penalty is $300 per incident. Details on how the fines would be collected are yet to be determined. The current noise ordinance on the books is based on decibel levels and only provides for a warning after a third violation.
Captain Thomas Lee of Boston Police District A-1 testified in favor of the ordinance, saying “We thank the North End residents that have brought up the need for this ordinance. Most of the complaints there are regarding these quality of life issues. We are not looking to punish landlords. We will look for fair enforcement and believe this is a good step forward.” BPD Seargant Tom Lema also spoke in support of the proposed ordinance, “The missing link is the landlords. This adds some teeth to what we are already doing.”
The North End’s State Representative Aaron Michlewitz testified at the hearing. “There are too many times when landlords ignore all signs of trouble, police and neighbors. The only way we are going to get the attention of these property owners is to hit them in the pocketbook,” he said.
City Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Pressley also came out in favor of the proposed ordinance saying at the hearing, “We are not anti-business or against higher learning institutions. We are pro-community. It’s all about being a good neighbor.” Chair of the Government Relations Committee, Councilor Matt O’Malley also voiced his support for the ordinance as did Mission Hill District Councilor Mike Ross.
A representative from an Allston – Brighton community organization spoke strongly in favor of the proposed nuisance control ordinance. “You don’t get fined if you are a reasonable landlord and are participating in the process.”
Anne M. Pistorio, a 26-year North End resident and landlord testified at the hearing that she tells her tenants, “If you like to party, this is not the place for you. Absentee landlords are the biggest problem on my street.”
Angela Aquilino, a longtime North End resident said, “It is not unusual to be hit with lit cigarettes and sprayed with urine coming from rooftops along with beer cans and bottles. It is hazardous to people. We have many elderly still living in the North End and many new young families that have moved in and want to stay. If this is the way, they will head for the hills.” She added, “most students and young professionals residents have grown up in the leafy suburbs. They are not used to living in the city and a tight neighborhood. They need to be educated.”
North Ender Marie Montemarano testified, “The North End has become like Sodom and Gomorrah and the village of the damned at once.” She reiterated problems of public urination and sex on rooftops and doorways. “They are throwing beer bottles at police. We are completely out of hand here. We’ve had 20 years of warnings. It’s gotta be a fine, immediately,” she said.
Janet Gilardi from Fulton Street spoke of problems with vomit in doorways and the noise at night. “It’s like they are in my bedroom. It’s horrible.” She added, “These absentee landlords don’t even tell them the rules. Maybe hurting them in the pocket is worth a try. I’m not against the students. Their mothers should be sending me roses every week for correcting them.”
One Charter Street resident said, “I just expect not to sleep on a Friday and Saturday night. I’ve talked to the landlords. It doesn’t matter. They party all night long.”
Alex Hahn, North End resident and landlord, said every one of his Lewis Street tenants has to sign a document to keep the noise down. He also asked for the police to be more aggressive regarding enforcement.
A music editor, Liz Pelly, spoke against the proposed ordinance, saying she lives with musicians that make noise. She said that communication is important with neighbors. She added that there is no alcohol in her house. They have elderly neighbors that call them when it gets too loud. “Noise doesn’t always mean unruly,” she told the Council.
Ethan Long, a former resident of the North End on Thacher Street and Suffolk University student, said he lives with six people in Allston, recently moving into a building labeled as “band friendly.” Yet, they received a noise complaint at 7 pm in the first week.
Long is concerned that police often “marginalize and harass” young people because of stereotypes. He said the band Aerosmith practiced on Commonwealth Avenue and “made tons of noise.” He added, “Music is part of the culture. We need public spaces to perform our art in a safe manner.”
Business owner and North End resident, Mark Petrigno, said “I’m a musician too, but ‘noise’ is ‘noise’ at 4:30 am. It’s so out of control. I hope this (nuisance control ordinance) is the beginning of something good.”
Councilor LaMattina, sponsor and author of the Nuisance Control Ordinance, ended the hearing by saying, “I hate to be the bad guy (with the fines in the proposed ordinance), but I’ve been a good guy for too long and it didn’t work.”
The next step is a working session with Boston Police and Inspectional Services to establish procedures and ensure payment, similar to the Green Ticket Law where fines are added to property tax bills. Subsequently, the City Council can vote on the ordinance that would need the Mayor’s signature before going into effect.