Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Nuisance property abatement strategies: demolition vs. security planning and management: example from Greenbelt

Franklin Park Apartments image from the owner. Improvements in public safety at the complex, located in Greenbelt, Maryland, now match the green, garden-like setting.

In 2005, I wrote a blog entry about dealing with nuisance properties--issues such as abandonment, litter, disorder, crime--through focused programs, including receivership. But all too often the kneejerk reaction is demolition/destruction of the property.

The entry was triggered by a Baltimore Sun article on the yanking of a certificate of occupancy for a multi-unit apartment that is the site of a great deal of disorder. Northwestern Police District Deputy Major Mary Ellerman is quoted as saying "The only way to rid this area of the problem is to demolish." (The article was titled "City targets landlord in new tack to rid apartments of drugs, guns" but is no longer available online.)

A press release about a focused interdiction and security effort at the Franklin Park Apartment complex in Greenbelt, Maryland ("Crime Declines 30 Percent at Franklin Park Apartment Community in MD Under New Ownership") discusses how new ownership and a commitment to the creation and execution of a robust security management plan has significantly reduced crime at a previously problem location in Prince George's County, Maryland. From the release:

“Fieldstone Properties and the Greenbelt Police Department share a robust partnership in providing a safe place to reside,” said Greenbelt Police Chief Jim Craze. “Overall crime at Franklin Park is down 11 percent in the first quarter of 2011, with a remarkable reduction of 50 percent in robbery. These reductions can be directly traced to the presence of a Community Policing Officer assigned full-time to the neighborhood, other directed patrols in the area, and diligent, proactive management of the property.”

“The future is bright.” Chief Craze added. “From every indication, further reductions can be expected.”

Tim White is the Community Policing Officer assigned full-time to Franklin Park. Fieldstone Properties has provided him with an office, direct access to its tenant database, and a golf cart for patrolling the 153-acre property. “The golf cart is so quiet that people don’t hear me coming,” he said. “Some people don’t like that.” Officer White provides tenants with his cell phone number, email address, and an anonymous tip line. Aiding Officer White’s work are new community-wide security improvements, including call boxes and security camera enhancements.

Franklin Park’s management has initiated leasing policies that include criminal background checks. As a result, tenants in more than 260 apartments have been evicted, and all tenants are now held responsible for the behavior of their visitors. “There’s a new sheriff in town,” said Debbie Dillon, Executive Vice President, Fieldstone Properties.

Some people might object to the criminal background checks and evictions, but that can be a key step into reducing systemic criminal activity. Management is about making hard choices and the right choices, and continued focus and vigilance.

This success story is a perfect example of abatement of nuisance properties through management and implementation of robust security plans, rather than demolition and the creation of vacant property.

Also see these stories from the Gazette about the property and the new ownership team, "Owner of Greenbelt complex seeks $15M for bridge to Metro" and "New owner hopes to improve Greenbelt apartment complex."

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