College Park has found no violations of its unruly social gathering ordinance
Director of Public Services Bob Ryan speaks at College Park City Council's virtual meeting on Oct. 20, 2020. (Clara Niel/For The Diamondback)
The College Park Department of Public Services has found no infractions and violations of the city’s controversial unruly social gathering ordinance — more than a year after the city council passed it unanimously.
The council reviewed the effects of the ordinance at a worksession Tuesday night. The ordinance prohibited any unruly social gatherings, and violations of the ordinance could charge landlords $500 per infraction.
During the original three-hour discussion passing the amendment, about 60 people spoke out against the ordinance, citing vague and unclear language.
The final version of the ordinance had four amendments, including one that changed the definition of a social gathering from four to eight people and another that stated residents wouldn’t be fined for a single noise violation.
Bob Ryan, the director of the public services department, attributed the success of the ordinance to several factors. The closure of the University of Maryland’s campus in March due to COVID-19 and the media attention about the ordinance may have made residents wary of violating it, he said.
District 3 Council member John Rigg said he was happy to see the ordinance hasn’t needed to be enforced yet. He praised the student population and residents for being safe, but he also mentioned that it’s hard to evaluate the ordinance’s effectiveness. It’s possible that unruly social gatherings aren’t happening due to COVID-19, Rigg said.
“To what extent is [the lack of gatherings] influenced by the unruly social gathering ordinance?” he asked.
Ryan echoed Rigg’s commendation of student residents’ responsibility during the pandemic. He noted most of the calls his department receives from its hotline concerning potential violators come from student residents. He urged students to keep the same level of diligence during Halloween and the return of football season.
Adam Rosenbaum, the student liaison to the council, thanked the council for the “shoutout” to students. He also commended Greek life chapters at the university for self-policing the social gathering standards.
Rosenbaum then advocated for a campaign after the pandemic is over that would clarify how the ordinance would be enforced, sharing concerns about the possibility of the ordinance being used against certain student groups. For example, he mentioned a religious gathering that involves drinking could be misconstrued as an unruly social gathering.
“We don’t want to be crossing the line in terms of making people scared to have religious social gatherings and the people who are doing things that are not unruly, being at risk of being called unruly,” Rosenbaum said.
There was an instance similar to the one Rosenbaum described shortly after the ordinance passed. The city was in a grace period, where code officers would educate and inform residents about the ordinance, not enforce it.
City Manager Scott Somers said that’s what the code officers were doing: educating and informing the group — something Ryan said code officers put emphasis on.
“Our code officers are sensitive to religious observances and will take every effort possible to avoid them, and we’ll inform them if we get noise complaints,” Ryan said.
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this article said the city’s public works department found no violations of the ordinance. The city’s public services department found no violations. Due to an editing error, a previous version of the article said the ordinance banned any gatherings of at least eight people. The ordinance prohibits unruly social gatherings. This story has been updated.