CHAPEL HILL — Southern Village has become a weekend hot spot for teens.
But after recent fights, vandalism and graffiti in the upscale subdivision, police officers are asking parents not to leave their children there late at night.
Tonight and Saturday, uniformed police officers will pass out fliers in Southern Village's Market Street shopping center off U.S. 15-501.
The fliers ask parents not to drop off teens to "hang out" after 9 p.m. The fliers add that businesses, including the Lumina movie theater, will not admit people under 16 after that hour unless accompanied by an adult.
"There's not been an incident where anybody got hurt," said Rosemary Waldorf, a spokeswoman for the merchants and property owners. "But no one wants there to be."
Waldorf called Market Street a "mini-downtown." It has become a gathering spot for middle and high school students, many of them drawn to $3 movies on the lawn Friday and Saturday nights.
The crowds grow as large as 200, with some teens sticking around until midnight, said police Lt. Kevin Gunter.
On a recent Saturday night, someone reported a group of youths shouting and heading toward Scroggs Elementary School. Police learned some teenagers had threatened two others earlier at the movie theater. Within minutes, police were called to Market Street to break up a fight, where about 50 students milled about on the sidewalk.
"There's just been an increased number of teenagers using this area as a hangout," Gunter said.
The shopping center and lawn are private property, while the streets and sidewalks are public, he said. But lately, some teens have begun roaming into neighborhoods and to the elementary school.
A few months ago, a teenager was found passed out drunk on the soccer field, Gunter said. He does not think the teen was from the subdivision.
Teens are coming from other parts of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Pittsboro and Durham, Gunter said.
Seth Kingsbury owns Pazzo, a Southern Village restaurant that is part pizzeria, part casual fine dining. He said that he has had large groups of teens come in and disturb diners and that his chef had to break up a fight in front of the restaurant a few weeks ago.
Only a few of the teens are causing the problem, he said, but merchants shouldn't be responsible for "basically baby-sitting" teens whose parents leave them until late at night.
Kingsbury said he will stop letting those under 16 into the restaurant after 9 p.m. unless they have wristbands that show they came from the outdoor movie or they are with a parent. He emphasized, however, that if youths are in trouble or have lost their ride home, the restaurant is a safe place they can get help.
"We're not trying to be grumpy merchants," he said. "We're trying to do this to create a safe place for kids to come hang out."
Staff writer Mark Schultz can be reached at 932-2003 or firstname.lastname@example.org.