After 35 years of serving on the Ewing police department, Wayne Kemper wanted to retire in a peaceful town surrounded by respectful neighbors. He wanted to retire in the neighborhood he grew up in.
Unfortunately, that is not what the veteran officer received.
For years, the Brae Burn neighborhood of Ewing has struggled to maintain good relations with the students from the College who rent housing in their town.
Now, the approval of Wilson Gearhart’s proposal to use the land at 129 Crescent Avenue to construct more housing for college students to rent has brought up concerns about an increase in noise, littering and cars parked up and down the street.
“If there’s a college house in the neighborhood, we want the grass to be cut, and we don’t want beer bottles strewn about the lawn,” Kemper said at a site review meeting in November. “We usually get what we want. There are more nice kids than dirty ones that live in this neighborhood … but there’s always a few that get wild and try to tear up my mailbox.”
Carolyn Carmichael, a resident of St. Paul Avenue, had similar complaints.
“We’ve had problems for years with College kids, and they are just going to keep getting worse as new places for them to live keep popping up,” Carmichael said.
In Sept. 2011, Kemper was featured in an article on ABC Action News that addressed retirees’ complaints about noisy college students in their neighborhood.
“I’ve had it,” Kemper told reporter Nora Muchanic. “I’m sick and tired of it. I worked all my life to live where I’m living now and now I have to put up with this.”
Two years have passed, and still not much has changed.
According to that article, there were about “100 rental houses in the Ewing Park-Brae Burn section occupied by students from TCNJ and Rider University, kids who neighbors say drink and party ’til all hours of the night.”
A 2012 article in the Trentonian stated that “Ewing currently has 732 single-family homes that are now rentals,” the majority of those belonging to college students.
Before he retired, Kemper said he would sometimes write 500 tickets a month to students from the College, mostly for drunkenness and disturbing the peace.
At a meeting last year, Della Sutton of Crescent Avenue told the township that students from the College tore down her mailbox five times in that past year. She added that they throw garbage onto her lawn, throw eggs at her home, and have even taken checks out of her mailbox. She called the police twice.
Valeria Caffe shared similar stories and even suggested that a surveillance system in the neighborhood might offer some relief for residents.
It has been 13 months since that meeting, and no system has been put into effect.
In June 2012, Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann said “enough is enough,” referring to “landlords who routinely convert single-family houses into rooming houses by chopping them up to exploit the properties and create what are essentially off-campus dormitories.”
“This is not about landlords making a buck, they are not building in character with the neighborhood, and they need to show some common decency for the community,” Steinmann said.
Despite the mayor’s declaration, homes in the Brae Burn neighborhood continue to be renovated into college rentals.
“It’s a disgrace,” said Delores Smith, a retiree living on St. Paul Avenue. “The town has no respect for us.”
Smith is a member of the Brae Burn Association. According to the group’s website, “The mission of this civil association is to be pro-active in keeping the quality and values of our homes as well as to provide a medium for exchange of ideas and concepts that promote harmony, safety and a wholesome neighborhood.”
The College’s Task Force has indicated to the Association that students have been given rules for behavior when living off campus and can be disciplined for violating the code of conduct, Smith said.
“The College doesn’t enforce its rules like it used to,” she said.
Smith had no shortage of stories about the havoc that College students have wreaked on her neighborhood.
“One man told us about a college couple having sex on his lawn,” Smith said. “He asked them to leave and they laughed and cursed him off. When he threatened to get his gun, they left. He doesn’t have a gun, but it sure got them to leave.”
Smith says that members of the Brae Burn Association have sent many letters to the College and to College President Barbara Gitenstein, but claims that these letters have gone unanswered.
“We just want some peace,” Kemper said about the issues. “Haven’t we dealt with enough, and for long enough?”