Tuesday, October 25, 2011

TOP STORY >> Neighbors feud over fence

Leader staff writer

The joys of a bonus for city employees in time for Christmas was overshadowed at the Sherwood City Council Monday night by feuding neighbors—a subdivision and an apartment complex.

Residents of the Park Crest Apartments and those from the adjoining subdivision, Austin Lakes, exchanged verbal punches, but the council took no action on the issue as it was not on the agenda, but only came up under old business.

At the council meeting in September, former city engineer Michael Clayton the told the council that the Park Crest Apartments met the definition of a public nuisance and suggested the council declare it one.

The council held off any action at the request of City Attorney Steve Cobb, who said he was dealing with the situation.

But whatever plan he was working on apparently had not come to fruition as of Monday night. Plus two weekends ago, the mayor and other volunteers tore down one of the two fences between the apartment complex and the Austin Lakes subdivision, adding to the problems.

It was clear that the apartment residents mobilized and were in attendance at Monday’s meeting, and so were the subdivision residents and the groups pointed out that the issue may go beyond the fence. All those speaking for the apartments were black and sat on one side of the chambers and all those backing the subdivision were white and sat on the other side.

Many tried to out-talk each other or over each other. Mayor Virginia Hillman chastised both groups, “We can all sing at the same time but we cannot all talk at the same time.”

Those in the subdivision blame apartment residents for knocking holes in the fence, coming onto their property, making threats and even firing off weapons into the subdivision.

Leslie Durbin told the council about bullets coming through the fence and even about a car that rammed the fence and knocked a portion of it down. Shawn Aday said he’d be happy to show aldermen a bullet lodged in his home that came from the apartments.

At the last meeting, Clayton said, “I’m not suggesting the city tear down a $10 million facility, but it gives you options. Let’s take the beginning step and declare it a nuisance.”

He told the council that the complex fits the definition of a nuisance. “Residents are scared; they’ve come to the city for help. Over the past three years, there have been 1,482 police calls to the apartments. It is having a negative impact on the city.”

Monday night he reiterated that the city has the power to deal with a nuisance. “Again, I’m not suggesting a bulldozer,” he said. “But we need to do something. Time is of the essence.”

Clayton had crime statistics available, but the mayor said the council couldn’t rely on them, only on those provided directly by the police department.

Police Chief Jim Bedwell told the council there had been reports of gun fire in the area and the police had “increased their presence and that crime had decreased at Park Crest.”

Wendy Dumas, the apartment complex manager, defended the facility and her residents. She said one of the subdivision residents raising the problems of the complex was Doris Anderson and that Anderson had threatened her and that no one had ever come to her office to discuss problems.

But Aday said he’s been there twice and the office was closed with a note saying it would be open on Fridays and Saturdays only. “I wish I had taken a picture,” he said.

Alim Muhammad, an apartment resident, complained that the problem went beyond the fence--that it was a bias and communication problem.

But later when a Leader reporter went to talk to him, the manager told him not to talk to “those people.”

Even when Mayor Virginia Hillman suggested it would be in his best interest to provide additional information to the press, he didn’t.

Lisa Wannamaker, the attorney for Ambling Management Company, which manages the income-based housing apartment complex at 100 Manson Road has said those assertions are groundless.

“We also believe that some of the complaints are founded in stereotypes and prejudice and are without legitimate basis. It is our hope that the residents of Austin Lakes will join with us to improve the quality of life for all residents of Sherwood, including those who live in Park Crest,” Wannamaker told the Leader

She added that the Park Crest fence had been completely replaced at a cost of $38,000 to the owner of the property.

Park Crest, the largest affordable property in Sherwood, was built in 1999, about five years before the development of the Austin Lakes Community, which features $100,000 to $250,000 homes.

In the past 18 months, more than half a million dollars in capital improvements and replacements have been made to Park Crest Apartments by the new owner, according to Wannamaker.

But Alderman Mary Jo Heye said there were still unlivable units in the complex.

In other council business:

 The council approved giving an $800 bonus to full time employees and up to $400 for part time employees who have logged in at least 1,000 hours this year, but the vote was not unanimous.

Aldermen Heye and Ken Keplinger voted against the bonus.

“Bonuses should only be for superior performance,” said Keplinger.

Heye said she would like the city employees to get the bonus “but everyone she has spoken to in the general public was not getting a bonus or a raise this year.”

 Alderman Tim McMinn asked the council to consider approving $40,000 for fire department operations even though the request was not on the agenda.

“We just spent $197,000 (on bonuses), what’s another $40, 000,” Keplinger said, throwing his glasses down.

McMinn said the fire department needed $10,000 for its Gravel Ridge operations and $30,000 for the Sherwood station. The request passed.

 Joey Parker, president of the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce gave the council more information about how the chamber would handle economic development for the city. He said there would be quarterly public reports and an oversight committee.

He told the aldermen there would be some one-time start up costs.

He said, “The plan is that Sherwood needs someone who just promotes Sherwood, not only the metro alliance.”

The council voted to allow the mayor and the senior alderman, Steve Fender, to sign the final contract with the chamber.

The city has budgeted about $50,000 for economic development this year which has not been used yet, and Parker said next year’s costs will be about $135,000.