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Pence Street Park neighbors air concerns

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Crime, graffiti and pet waste were among the concerns of residents who attended a community meeting last week in the Pence Street neighborhood.

Joe Harmon, of Hinman Street, said he tries to keep an eye on the community. But when his grandson, a soldier, came home to visit and left a bag of clothes on the back porch of Harmon’s home, they were quickly stolen.

“They are also breaking up stuff in the back alley, making it look like trash back there,” Harmon said. “We have to go and clean it up, and that is no good.”

The meeting Thursday night at Pence Place, one of the city’s public housing developments, was the most lightly attended of the community meetings held so far, with about twice as many city officials in attendance as residents. Residents who attended expressed pride in their neighborhood, south of State Street in the former East Columbus. But, they also shared their frustrations.

Kimberly Clark, of Hege Avenue, said she likes to walk at night in the park. One of her concerns are the dog owners who allow their pets to defecate in the park but do not clean up after them. Clark said she has only occasionally been troubled by dogs who are uncontrolled by leashes.

Mayor Kristen Brown said the city’s leash law allows dogs to be controlled either with a leash or by verbal commands. Ben Wagner, the head of the city’s park department, said the city has a dog waste law that can be enforced. Brown and Wagner also said the city could install stations containing plastic bags for cleaning up dog waste.

Brown and Lt. Matt Myers of the Columbus Police Department toured the neighborhood with two residents, looking at some of the problem households. Scattered among the small homes with trimmed, neat yards and well-maintained fences were others with debris scattered throughout, broken windows and derelict vehicles. Boarded-over doors and windows marked some homes as fire sites or empty buildings plagued by methamphetamine makers who break in to use the empty hulk for their labs, Myers said.

One house still had a charred husk of a back porch, damaged in a fire. Another home’s front yard once was owned by a tidy family, but now is piled high with debris such as broken furniture and trash.

The city is planning a major cleanup effort April 19 and 20, Brown said. Volunteers from local churches and companies will offer their services to clean properties of debris, if the owners and residents will allow it. The city also will remove derelict structures such as sheds, if they can get owners’ permission.

“We are trying to come in and be a helping hand,” Brown said.

The city’s police rely on residents to alert them to situations and problems, Myers said. For example, an officer driving through a neighborhood would be unlikely to recognize a vehicle that was not supposed to be at a particular house.

One of the mayor’s directives is to make sure that city parks are safe, Myers said. There is criminal activity in the neighborhood surrounding the Pence Street Park, he said.

“We have shut down a couple of meth houses in the area, and we have busted some people with drugs,” Myers said. “There are some good residents who take care of their property, but there are some people who are causing problems to the whole neighborhood. We are committed to making this a safe area. And we are committed to making sure Pence is a safe park.”

The Pence Street Park meeting was the final of a series meant to introduce the Race to Play playground improvement program and to gather information from residents about improving their neighborhoods. Previous meetings were held for Morningside, Ninth Street and Mead Village parks.

Under the Race to Play program, a $500,000 partnership between the city, several foundations including Tony Stewart’s and private donors, Pence Street Park will receive newly refurbished playground equipment and a shelter house. The playground sits just north of the housing project.

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