Northland News

Clear Point Gardens

New owners' attitude evident at apartment complex

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Students from Otterbein University in Westerville teamed with residents and employees of Clear Point Gardens off Shanley Drive in north Columbus to install 100 container gardens at the complex.
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In August 2012, the occupancy rate at a 604-unit apartment complex off Shanley Drive was 56 percent.

Today, 90 percent of the units in what is now called Clear Point Gardens are rented.

In late April, when city prosecutors filed charges against the nearby Summit Park Apartments for 63 code violations, the occupancy rate at the 260-unit complex was reported at between 50 percent and 60 percent.

Religious and community leaders had been holding meetings seeking a solution to problems the largely refugee population at Summit Park was experiencing, particularly after many families were displaced by an August fire in one of the buildings.

People recently met at Clear Point Gardens, not to complain but to improve: 100 container gardens were installed as part of a service-learning project for Otterbein University students to enable the largely Bhutanese refugee residents to raise their own crops.

What was sometimes derisively referred to as "Uzi Alley" during its incarnation as Breckenridge Apartments, said former Northland Community Council President Dave Paul, has undergone a startling transformation from a place with a troubled reputation to, in the words of an employee of the property management firm now in charge, "a nice place for people to live."

The complex was so crime-plagued at one time, Paul said last week, that it may have helped bring about the demise of Northland Mall. The story goes that when mall officials took people considering opening a store there on tours, they'd later find their cars had been broken into in the parking lot.

"Certainly, there was a perception that there was a problem there -- a very strong perception," Paul said.

"I think people were very concerned about the amount of crime going on there," current NCC President Emmanuel V. Remy said.

No more.

"We've gotten rid of all that riffraff," said Kelly Nierman, regional property manager for Foresite Realty LLC of suburban Chicago.

The new owners of the complex, partners from British Columbia, hired Foresite to begin making improvements to the units even before officially taking ownership Aug. 2, 2012, Nierman said.

"We changed the name of the property so we could change the reputation, kind of let everyone know that it was new owners and new property managers," she said. "Right now in the industry, properties are selling at a lower rate than they had been in years prior. They got a good deal on the property, knowing that they would have to put a lot of money into it."

Upgrades to the apartments and an ongoing project to improve the overall appearance of the property will cost about $2.5 million, Nierman said. These include a new fence, removal of 90 dead trees, and replacement of the asphalt in the parking lot and the old Dumpsters.

"Everything there is being changed," Nierman said.

"I think that things have improved dramatically," Remy said. "It seems like the new owners have a genuine concern for making that a better place and are actually investing money in it and not just letting it pass by in an as-is condition, which in some cases was deplorable.

"It has been unusual in the past, in the Northland area in particular, so we're very fortunate to have them purchase it. Also, the type of management company they hired seems to be top-notch and responsive and concerned about the welfare of the population."

"In less than a year, the crime rate over there has plummeted ... and the occupancy rate is soaring," said professor Heidi R. Ballard of Otterbein's Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

Ballard, a Clintonville resident, currently is on sabbatical from the university but helped install the container gardens late last month.

"We're building more of a neighborhood and it's really become a nice environment," Nierman said. "We were having some challenges because there are some refugees living there who don't speak English. They want to understand how to do things in compliance with policies. They want to become more Americanized in how they do things in their home. This is what the organizations are telling us."

Hiring an interpreter has helped, but this Americanization is going to take some time. The Bhutanese traditionally have washed clothing by hand, but to encourage use of on-site washing machines and discourage residents from hanging clothes all over the place to dry, Foresite Realty gave out dozens of laundry carts, Nierman said.

"We have a diverse group there, so we had to kind of educate the residents on how to do things within the policies of the community," she added.

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