Some people give up. Fred Brace just fuels up on the frustration.
The University Park resident spends his free time tracking down housing code offenses and lodging complaints about liquor license violations.
Brace is a Housing Court liaison, a voice for a neighborhood with a combustible mix of bars, student housing and long-term neighbors. And there are times that he can feel, he said, “like a voice in the wilderness.”
“It’s daunting because the system is really set up to defeat you or to wear you down to the point where you just give up,” Brace said. “And I’m one of those fools that just doesn’t do that.”
Brace has watched the ebb and flow of official concern over University Heights, the city’s northeast neighborhood that butts up against the University at Buffalo’s South Campus. The neighborhood has beautifully kept, century-old homes. It has student rentals with sagging porches, and it has Main Street bars that mostly attract students.
The neighborhood is at the center of controversy again after a late-night assault at Molly’s Pub left an Air National Guardsman hospitalized with a brain injury and a bar manager in jail.
There are too many questions just beginning to be answered as friends and family pray for the recovery of 28-year-old William C. Sager Jr.
But for University Heights neighbors, the concerns about Molly’s Pub didn’t begin the night Sager, a Guardsman engaged to be married, landed in the hospital. The concerns, Brace said, have been around for years, since the building was shut down in 2006 for underage drinking, and again this year when it reopened as a dance bar that drew crowds of UB students.
Brace is among a contingent of neighbors actively working to make University Heights better by attempting to enforce housing codes and to crack down on student house parties.
That, he said, includes watching the Main Street bars to ensure they’re strictly following liquor license rules.
“The solutions, to me, are really very simple,” Brace said. “There are laws in place that need to be followed to the letter.”
The focus has shifted to University Heights before and then slipped away before the problems could be adequately addressed.
Five years ago, after a UB graduate was shot on Main Street just hours after receiving his engineering degree, police stepped up bike patrols and installed cameras. But officers on bikes, Brace said, are rarely seen today. When neighbors complained of unruly students flocking to house parties and urinating on private properties, the University at Buffalo installed Porta-Potties – a solution that did little to satisfy neighbors.
“Nothing has really changed,” Brace said. “No one has definitively stepped up to the plate, and that’s sad.”
University Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt said he hears three concerns about University Heights: the proximity of students to long-term residents in the area, absentee landlords and quality-of-life issues concerning bars.
“Right now, it seems as though the bar owners are on an island,” said Wyatt, who took office earlier this year. “I need them to understand that the needs of the residents have to be paramount.”
There’s no time to wait around for another tragedy.