Fence to curb partying at Townehouse in Amherst gets mixed reaction

  • —Morgan Hughes

  • This fence recently went up at the Townehouse condo complex. Morgan Hughes

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

AMHERST — A new 7-foot-tall fence recently erected at an apartment complex well-known among college students as a place to party is drawing mixed reactions from community members and University of Massachusetts Amherst students.

Some, especially students, say the fence at the Townehouse of Amherst Condominiums on Townehouse Drive won’t shrink the large-scale parties that occur there, while one resident say it’s about time something be done to bring tranquility back to the neighborhood.

The fence, erected during spring break for UMass, shuts off the grassy West Quad tucked inside the units. It is part of an effort by the Amherst Police Department to decrease the consequences of large, usually alcohol-fueled gatherings that often happen at the complex, though no fence has gone up on the complex’s East Quad.

Amherst Police Neighborhood Liaison Officer William Laramee said that changes like this to the landscape of an area are part of a methodology called “crime prevention through environmental design.” The goal is to add or take away vegetation or structures to reduce certain types of crime in that space.

The fence is intended to make it more difficult for uninvited people to enter the quad. With the fence now in place, people wanting to enter the quad will need to be let in through a tenant’s front door and exit out the back.

“The fence sends a message that this area is no longer accessible,” Laramee said. “Ideally [parties] are going to be smaller. There’s never an issue of tenants hosting people coming over, the problem was is there is no way to control [gatherings in the quad] because there are so many points of access.”

Laramee has been going door-to-door to talk safety with people living in and around the Townehouses, finding that a number of the tenants said that they don’t choose to host the parties but people come anyway.

“What folks don’t realize is that when they go there [to party], they aren’t invited,” Laramee said.

Students surprised

The fence caught many UMass students off guard. Some feel it is unnecessary.

“I think it’s a little ridiculous, but I guess we asked for it,” said Henry Abrams, 22, citing the large parties.

As a UMass student, Abrams said he has never felt concern for his safety and his property in the two years he’s lived there.

Laramee stressed that safety and peace of the neighborhood are primary goals, not keeping students from a good time.

Austin Parker, 22, a UMass student who lives at Townehouse, said that he had not participated in conversations with police about the problem and potential solutions, and doesn’t believe the fence will curb the parties.

“We’ll find a way, we’ll always find a way,” Parker said.

Over in the East Quad, which does not yet have a fence, UMass students Tino Dandini, 20, and Griffin O’Driscoll, 20, say that though they understand why the fence was put in place, people thinking of moving into the Townehouses should “know what they’re getting into.”

“It’s mostly students who live here,” Dandini said. “You know exactly what you’re coming into. This is the most cheapest place you can live at UMass, so people come here for the parties.”

Residents hopeful

Longtime residents of the neighborhood who have outlasted a number of students hope the new landscape addition will bring tranquility to the neighborhood.

“I live in this area and I dread certain weekends,” said Marie Burbine, 75, who has lived on North Pleasant Street, just across the street from the complex, for over 25 years. She pointed to noticeable improvement in the behavior and safety of students living in the neighborhood after the “Blarney Blowout,” a large outdoor gathering near the Townhouses in 2014 where 55 were arrested after a heavy police response.

“2014 was one of the worst years,” she said. “Police and security have made a tremendous difference in the neighborhood. They addressed the problem and now things get better and better every year.”

Dandini and O’Driscoll say they believe the parties will become smaller or move to a different location such as Hobart Lane.

Area police and officials, property owners and UMass staff will continue discussion around “crime prevention through environmental design.” Other options like planting hedges to decrease open spaces and adding more lighting to increase visibility in places with large outdoor gatherings are still on the table, Laramee said.

The management of the Townehouses of Amherst declined multiple requests for comment.