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Apartment complex tenants discuss safety at meeting

March 18, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Tenants at the Washington Gardens housing complex plan to take steps to make their neighborhood safer following a fatal shooting there early Sunday.

Members of Washington Gardens management and a member of the tenants association said existing measures might soon be bolstered by a neighborhood watch program, increased lighting and a guard to patrol the complex's grounds.

Deloris Bitner, chairwoman of an informal tenants association, said about 30 tenants gathered for a meeting Wednesday evening, nearly double the usual number. The meeting originally was scheduled to discuss remodeling possibilities, but the focus changed because of the shooting death of a 19-year-old Pennsylvania man there, she said.

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"That was one of the first things I mentioned, about what happened on Sunday," Bitner said. "I think it needed to be addressed and everyone had something to say about it."

"It cannot be tolerated here," she said.

Police charged Azaniah Blankumsee, 25, in an arrest warrant in the fatal shooting of Jonathan M. Dennis, 19, of Waynesboro, Pa., in front of 958 Security Road at about 12:40 a.m. Sunday. Police said five shots were fired at a group of people, including Dennis, from a distance of about 50 to 75 feet.

Blankumsee remained at large Wednesday evening, police said.

Bitner said that as a result of tenants' interest, she plans to discuss implementing a watch program at the complex with members of the Hagerstown Police Department, "so we can look out for each other."

Bitner said it was the first of several steps residents want to take to increase safety there. She said additional lighting and a guard for the complex also were discussed Wednesday.

Pamela Black, who has managed Washington Gardens for 13 years, said several efforts to increase safety there likely would be addressed during a $2 million rehabilitation project at the complex. She said the rehab plan will be handled by a group trying to purchase the complex from the current owner, Edgewood Management.

She said the improvements to the buildings and grounds are "desperately needed."

In September, Preservation of Affordable Housing Inc. of Boston, which is acquiring the Section 8 housing complex, asked the Hagerstown City Council for support in its attempt to receive tax-exempt bonds from the Maryland Community Development Administration.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said local government support is needed for the use of tax-exempt bonds.

The council tabled the company's request, and Councilman Lewis Metzner said the company did not demonstrate there was an affordable housing need that was not being met.

It has not been officially discussed at a meeting since, Councilwoman Carol N. Moller said Wednesday evening.

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