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Updated: 06/11/2014 08:00:00AM

Cultivating in the Gardens

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A face-to-face meeting between city officials and the management and owners of the Azalea Gardens Apartments last week seems to be heading in a direction to helping combat problems in that area of town.

The meeting was held Wednesday. City Attorney Sean Parker, City Commissioner Leo Longworth, Police Chief Joe Hall and City Manager George Long from the city met with Andy Lasky from C-T Associates Inc. and Jason Larson from Creative Choice. C-T is the management company over Azalea Gardens, Creative Choice is the owner.

Parker said the meeting was helpful in getting ownership and management people to meet with the city and the progress was positive in helping address problems there. On the other side, Larson said “everything went very well,” adding it really is just a matter of “sitting down and working together to get out ahead of some things.”

The groups met for a while, toured the grounds and plan to meet again in two months to see if problems are being addressed.

The problems at Azalea Gardens Apartments are not strictly crime related. They also deal with problems in the neighborhood that are not being addressed and the fact that much of the problems are being caused by people who don’t live there and, in fact, by people who don’t live in Bartow.

In research Hall’s department recently did shows that Azalea Gardens receives on average, 47 percent more police service calls and 22 percent more fire services calls than the rest of the city. In the report those numbers are called staggering, “especially considering the city average is based solely on residents and not those visiting from the outside.”

In other points on the study, 23 percent of all dangerous shooting calls throughout the city occur in Azalea Gardens;, 22 percent of all fights reported to police occur in Azalea Gardens.

Larson said he was not aware of some of the problems that occur there. However, there are some problems of which he is aware. To that extent his company has installed cameras in the area in order to keep a better watch on things. There was some discussion, he said, about giving police access to the videos.

“We’ve put in a pretty expensive camera system,” he said. In many instances where there is a fight by the time the police show up the fight is over and the people have moved on.

“I’m hoping with the camera system we can see what’s going on.”

He also said the camera can work as a deterrent too. If people know they are being taped, they may not act up, he said.

Larson said a far majority of the residents living in Azalea Gardens are headed by females.

“A vast majority are women and children. Out of the 120 units there is one male listed as the head of the household. There are 10 males on the leases,” Larson said.

In the big picture, the residents probably don’t want to cause trouble because this is government subsidized housing. If they get evicted from the apartments they will likely not be able to qualify for affordable housing, where HUD pays a majority of the rent.

He also pointed out the problems that stem from outside visitors. While visitors are hard to disallow, there has to be a community effort between the apartment residents and law enforcement to keep the area okay.

“If a tenant does have a disruptive guest, he or she can be held responsible. But there has to be evidence,” Larson said.

Hall said he would like nothing more than residents working with law enforcement to help stem problems in complex.

“Our problem is a community problem,” Hall said. “We have to partner the police department and the management. Whether it’s real or perceived is irrelevant. Time and effort is being spent in one location and other locations (are being overlooked). This is an issue to me as police chief.”

Past efforts between the city and the ownership and management of Azalea Gardens has been spotty at best. There have been starts but follow throughs have always fallen by the wayside. This time, though, Parker said he’s got confidence something will happen.

“I think the bottom line issue is … and the city’s role is limited … ultimately make Bartow a better place to live and help this apartment complex. From a health, safety and welfare standpoint, it’s a better thing to be open and that was a good take away,” he said.

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