Parking, noise at heart of issue


Published: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
A clash of cultures is at the heart of rising tension between students and families in Gainesville's single-family neighborhoods.
It's a conflict that has spurred neighborhoods, many of which have been dealing with a growing student population for years, to take their concerns to the City Commission with renewed vigor and could prompt a greater city crackdown on code violations by student renters.
Several area single-family neighborhoods have seen a sharp increase in college-aged dwellers - both as renters and owners, according to many of Gainesville's neighborhood associations. In many cases, these new residents, driven into neighborhoods by the prospect of real estate investments or the desire for larger properties, have schedules, habits and attitudes that are markedly different than their older neighbors.
"The single-family neighborhoods aren't functioning like they're single-family," said Joe Schmidt, a member of the University Park Neighborhood Association. The University Park area, located west of NW 13th Street and north of W. University Avenue, is now home not only to long-term residents, but numerous rental properties carved out of existing houses or homes purchased by students for financial reasons, Schmidt said.
University Park, and other neighborhoods throughout the city, have seen problems with late-night parties, poorly kept lawns and houses and student cars clogging neighborhood streets.
Students in many of these neighborhoods say they're not trying to cause problems. In fact, many said the characterizations made by their neighbors are unfair and that many of the problems could be solved with better communication.
Ryan Wiborg, a University of Florida pre-law student who owns a home in the Golfview subdivision with his twin brother, said that rather than approach the students to talk about their problems, long-time residents went directly to Gainesville Police and Code Enforcement with their complaints.
"Do they ever call us? No," said Wiborg, 20. "Do we get a squad car every week? Yes."
Commissioners have started looking for ways to crack down on some of these issues, which are seen as a liability to the city's quality of life.
Growing tensions Tension between students and neighbors is a growing issue in a college town that has seen steadily higher enrollments without increases to on-campus housing. With 75 percent of UF students receiving Bright Futures scholarships, many parents have found themselves with funds available to invest in a home rather than lose in paying rent.
The first rumblings of new discontent from neighbors city-wide came last fall, when members of the newly-reconstituted Forest Ridge neighborhood association demanded city action on code violations and nuisance issues in their neighborhood. Located north of NW 16th Avenue, the subdivision had previously been considered too far north of UF to be a source of major conflicts between students and residents.
"I think probably the bottom line is that we would like for everyone in the neighborhood to live respectfully and responsibly and to understand what it means to be part of a single-family neighborhood," said Melody Marshall, coordinator for the homeowner's group.
The tension, according to some residents, comes from conflict between the traditional vision of single-family neighborhoods and the habits and attitudes of students.
People move into single-family neighborhoods because they expect them to be protected areas, said Mark Goldstein, a member of the University Park Neighborhood Association and former Gainesville city commissioner.
For many, the idyllic image of a single-family neighborhood tends to be one of quiet streets, well-kept houses and respectful households of parents, young children and retirees.
But in Gainesville, the reality is much more complicated.
Friction between students and residents can come from issues as obvious as loud partying and poorly maintained properties or from actions that students might think are relatively innocuous, said Linda Crider, a former member of the College Park/University Heights Redevelopment Advisory Board.
One example of the latter, cited by many who share neighborhoods with students, is the vast increase in the number of cars students bring to a neighborhood, which are often parked on the streets because of a lack of space in driveways.
It's a problem that has been spreading through the city, with neighbors from areas seemingly far from the University of Florida bringing complaints to the Gainesville City Commission about loud parties and steady streams of cars and students filing in and out of the neighborhoods at odd hours.
But many students say the problem is not as black and white as the portrayals offered by long-time residents.
Lifestyle differences Wiborg purchased and moved into a $313,000 house on SW 4th Place with his twin brother in March. The neighborhood, where homes typically sell for between $250,000 and $400,000, was close to campus and seemed to be a good investment, Wiborg said.
Sean Wiborg, Ryan's brother, admits that when they first moved in, he and the other three people living in the house may not have been the best neighbors. Neighbors complained about noise at the house, cars parked along the street and the inconsistent upkeep of the property, he said.
But after repeated visits from city authorities, the house-members decided to try to clean up their property, he said.
"We've changed a lot," Wiborg said, noting that they had tried to reduce the noise of parties they held, took a more meticulous interest in their property, expanded their driveway to take cars off the street and even evicted a housemate who had been problematic.
Some neighbors say the Wiborgs have improved their conduct, but note that problems still exist.
"I'm sorry if they're trying and it isn't reaping them any benefits," said William Gager, Golfview's representative on Gainesville's Council of University Neighborhood Associations.
In part, problems like the number of cars and loud noises that wake up neighbors are just differences in the lifestyles of students and other residents, Gager said.
"The noise making isn't malicious," Gager said. "It's just that students are nocturnal people. If they remember they're living in a place where people go to bed at 11:00 when they're just getting started out that would be a great step toward resolving the problem."
But students and other renters should make sure they know the standards of the neighborhoods they live in before they move in, Gager said. And the city should be more active in preserving the quality of life for the neighbors, he said.
"Everybody knew Golfview was zoned a residential neighborhood," Gager said. "So how does it happen that somebody isn't stepping in and saying what's happening here isn't typical of a residential neighborhood?"
Enduring effects The slow creep of students into areas traditionally occupied by families and professionals has been a long-standing concern in Gainesville.
It's a problem that Audubon Park, a neighborhood near the intersection of SW 13th Street and Archer Road, has been struggling with for years, Crider said.
Neighbors have raised concerns that as transitory residents, students don't have the same stake in their communities as other residents. While they can, and often will, move on after their time at school is over, the changes they can have on a neighborhood can be long-lasting, and passed onto the next generation of student neighbors.
Student homeowners, who are seen as less concerned with the upkeep of their properties and the concerns of their neighbors, come into conflict with neighbors who want clean neighborhoods, quiet nights and clear streets and who often fear a decline in quality of life and property values as students inch closer. "A lot of the problem is it's not in sync with some of the neighborhood values of the people living there," Crider said.
Predictably, those areas near UF have dealt with some of the most serious and long-standing issues and tend to have some of the highest concentrations of students.
About half the homes in Audubon Park now house students, either as renters or owners in partnership with their parents, Crider said.
"I think there's the potential for some compatibility," Crider said. "But there needs to be a balance and the balance seems to keep tipping in favor of people speculating on student housing."
But as houses near the university are snatched up and properties become scarce and expensive, students have spread throughout Gainesville, settling in areas that have had little experience dealing with them.
Cheaper living A new wrinkle has emerged in recent years that has further complicated the issue of student renters.
Increasingly, students and their parents are choosing to buy homes, often in previously student-free areas, as investments and as a way to save money on monthly housing expenses.
In general, purchases by students, or more often their parents, are driven by financial considerations, said Kim Johns, a Realtor with Century 21 in Gainesville.
When sending a child to UF, families are confronted with a choice: pay rent for four years without receiving anything concrete in return or buy a house that holds the promise of actually increasing in value by the time it's sold after graduation, Johns said.
"They're putting that money to good use," she said.
Bonnie Mott, president of the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors, said though skyrocketing property values in Gainesville might make such a decision more attractive, parents see property ownership as a good investment even in times where prices are more level, and there is at least the opportunity to break even.
But while investing in student housing may be a boon for families outside of Gainesville, it can present problems for those already settled here, Crider said.
"It's playing havoc with the neighborhoods that are trying to maintain a semblance of a single-family neighborhood and are sort of hanging on by their finger tips," she said.
Jeff Adelson can be reached at 374-5095 or adelsoj@ gvillesun.com.

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