When police officers made arrests during two recent traffic stops in the Country Squire Lakes subdivision, they received a public response that hadn’t been seen in that area for a while.
“Several citizens drove by and showed their approval with giving thumbs-up, clapping and shouting ‘Thank you!” said Indiana State Trooper Randel Miller.
Until the end of June, most residents of Country Squire Lakes didn’t see officers patrolling their streets because police could not enforce traffic laws in a private community.
The only time that officers came to the subdivision north of North Vernon was to investigate a crime that had occurred, said Jennings County Deputy Sheriff Maj. Jerry Shepherd.
The Country Squire Lakes Community Association mounted a successful petition drive last fall for Jennings County to take control of safety and maintenance of the housing development’s three main roads. That allows both county and state police officers jurisdiction to patrol Country Manor Boulevard, Country Manor Way and Foxmoor Drive.
Multiple injuries and fatalities involving pedestrians have taken place in recent years because tickets couldn’t be issued to speeders who drove along the neighborhood’s tight and hilly roads, said Jesse Angel, the housing association’s president.
“They will write more tickets and make Country Squire Lakes safer,” Angel said. “That’s exactly what we want them to do.”
Lakes residents also have been making a concentrated effort to improve the subdivision.
While there was a discussion among the homeowners association to construct an elaborate water park, Angel said residents have instead asked that short-term efforts be focused on three main areas:
Removing the blight.
Attracting nicer people.
Many of the subdivision’s problems began after one developer began buying properties in 2006, eventually owning 590 of CSL’s 4,000 lots. But when the developer abandoned the properties after running into financial trouble, it took a toll on CSL’s ability to maintain the entire subdivision.
Fewer owners mean less cash from dues flowing to the association, which means less maintenance, Angel said.
As the recession began to grip Jennings County over the next few years, property values began to plummet in CSL. At the same time, reports of crime and lawlessness in the subdivision began to rise.
“Unfortunately, because of the low property values, it attracts the wrong type of people,” Angel said.
Lawsuits were filed that claimed that since the association wasn’t properly maintaining the properties, they should not have to pay dues and
Eventually, judges ruled improvements couldn’t be made unless residents pay their dues and assessments, Angel said.
The court decisions marked the start of a slow turnaround that is now allowing CSL to finally start heading in the right direction, Angel added.
“This is now the third year money has been spent to restore amenities. You can see noticeable improvement when you drive through Country Squire Lakes,” Angel said.
The homeowners association has worked with the Jennings County Plan Department to raze more than 18 abandoned homes this year that are deemed to be beyond repair.
The Jennings County Commissioners have faced some heat from residents who think there is insufficient tax revenue to tend to existing roads, so the county should not take responsibility for the four main roads in Country Squire Lakes.
County commissioners president Matt Sporleder had a different view.
“In the short term, it might be an economic disadvantage. But the more we clean up Country Squire Lakes, the more it will increase property values, and that will bring in more tax revenue,” he said.
For the first five years that Joseph Fitch lived in the community, he never saw any improvements being made. But after moving back a few years ago, the Raemont Drive resident said he’s recently noticed potholes being fixed and grass being mowed at the side of streets.
Despite the improvements, Fitch said he’s still skeptical about the future of his
“I’ve seen a few things here and there. But there’s still a lot more they need to work on,” Fitch said.
The Rev. Dale Barnett, a Londonary Way resident who has been an outspoken critic of CSL, agreed with Fitch’s
Barnett said he’s seen only one police officer and has not noticed an impact on speeding vehicles.
“Improvements are very slow,” he said. “When it comes to getting bang for the bucks, I just haven’t see it yet.”
However, Barnett said he has been informed the gravel road in front of his home will be paved later this month.