Thursday, August 25, 2005

Bracing for the Big Weekend

By JESSICA ROCHA, Staff Writer, The Chapel Hill News

CHAPEL HILL -- A lone bottle of Rolling Rock perched prophetically on the porch at 309 McDade St. early this week.

Inside, UNC rising junior Charles McDonald sifted through piles of stuff in his bedroom, while senior Matt Byron graciously gave a reporter the grand tour.

The five upperclassmen who would be rooming together there were still trying to figure out what would go in the room between the kitchen and the living room.

"We might make this the beer pong room," said Byron, a 21-year-old history and business major.

This week, Chapel Hill police and university administrators are expecting the town's population to swell by the thousands as students arrive for fall semester. With them, they're expecting increased drinking, traffic and noise in neighborhoods that remain relatively quiet during the summer months.

"This weekend's going to be pretty crazy -- everybody comes back," Byron said.

Living off campus has become a rite of passage for the college set -- there's more freedom than living in the dorms. But as Byron and McDonald organized their living quarters, Chapel Hill police in the community policing division were coordinating a Friday neighborhood outing that is also on its way to becoming tradition.

For the second year, police and other members of civic and community groups will be knocking on hundreds of doors in neighborhoods surrounding campus on Friday, introducing themselves to students and asking them to think of their neighbors before throwing loud parties that could sprawl onto others' lawns or invade the ear drums of snoozing parents.

It's called the Good Neighbor Initiative, and it targets students in rental properties with packets of information and coupons from nearby stores.

"We are going to encourage them to ... pick up trash, look after their own area and report on suspicious activity," said Sgt. Kevin Gunter, who heads the Police Department's community services division.

Meantime, Chapel Hill police will add patrols on Franklin and Rosemary streets this weekend, also in anticipation of increased traffic and more drinking.

"What we are really concerned about are the first-year students in town who are here for the first time, and we don't want to see them get hurt or get out of hand," said Capt. Brian Curran.

This week cardboard boxes, junked sofas and lots and lots of beer and liquor bottles piled up outside homes throughout Northside. Delivery truck drivers unloaded mattresses, and roads and driveways filled with cars with out-of-state tags.

McDonald arrived from Charlotte Monday to sift through the abandoned remains from a previous tenant stacked up in his room.

A jumbo inflatable beer bottle and Boston Red Sox flag headed into another pile in the hall. The upholstered rocker eventually had to go. The Panthers helmet facemask was designated to a growing mound on the mattress of things that would stay put.

McDonald pulled out one of dozens of leftover 2005 basketball championship T-shirts he was selling last year. Another absent roommate named Sean, who the others joked was the "mom" of the group, reportedly made a quilt out of his surplus T-shirts for his girlfriend.

The goal was to straighten up and organize for the weekend, in case the group wanted to christen the house with its first party of the school year, "depending on what the cops say," Byron said.

Contact staff writer Jessica Rocha at 932-2008 or