LACONIA — Residents of Wingate Village will lose the fences behind their apartments and, they say, their dignity and privacy due to a decision by property managers. Residents of the Blueberry Lane complex received a letter in December from property manager Laura Blay that on June 1, all units would have the fences removed.
“All items must be removed from your yards and either stored inside your apartment or disposed of,” the letter read, and stated three dumpsters would be delivered to the property to help residents with cleanup. "All residents are expected to comply with removing all items before June 1,” the letter continued.
The matter is now in court, although the hearing is not scheduled until well after June 1.
For Elizabeth Baumgartner, this meant the end of her extensive garden and slate walkway, a project that has cost her more than $2,000 over her 20 years of calling Wingate home. For Anne Kennison, a mother of three, the decision meant the loss of a safe area for her young ones to play away from the road.
“Some people just love their outdoor space, like me,” said Baumgartner, 59. “Some people have barbecues and they sit out there. It's outdoor space that’s ours, and it’s always been ours, now all of a sudden they’re like, ‘Well no more, fences are going, it’s all going to be community space, you have no personal space anymore.'”
“My family moved here from Lochmere Meadows in Tilton, which has townhouses like here, but no fences,” Kennison said, adding she moved to Wingate because of the private yards. “People that had dogs were letting their dogs run everywhere and poop everywhere by other people’s doors. Before I had my twins, my son was outside playing by our back door. He found what he thought was rocks, and he was picking up dog poop.”
Ed Cafaso, a spokesperson for Wingate, said the fences were being removed because they were “unsightly” and dangerous due to their state of disrepair.
“The issue with the property is that it was built on wetlands, so the constant freezing and thawing and wet nature of the soil has led to the fences deteriorating to the point where they need to be removed,” Cafaso said. “It’s a dangerous situation, and many residents have expressed support for the idea to get rid of these.”
Contrary to Cafaso’s statement, Baumgartner collected 88 signatures from the 94 occupied units in opposition to the removal. In addition to the signatures and comments from residents, neighbors drafted a petition calling the move “an unreasonable and unrealistic solution.”
There are no plans to replace the fencing according to both the petitioners and Cafaso.
“Currently the areas have gates that lead to parking lots, so walkways will be built to the parking lots, and that area behind those homes will be replaced with a dog park, picnic area, in that area,” Cafaso said.
The petition mocked the alternative amenities, calling a bike rack and picnic areas a “prime spot for thievery and vandalism.”
“The cost of a replacement fence would be quite significant, and given the state of the freezing and thawing on the former wetlands that this property used to be, it’s not clear that a replacement fence would fare much better over time,” Cafaso said.
The petition also pointed out that the proposed amenities would also have a significant cost and require maintenance. However it appears that this is the cheapest option for WinnResidential, the Massachusetts-based corporation that owns the apartment complex.
“They want to take money out of Wingate, they don’t want to put money in,” Baumgartner said. “That’s what it’s about. The bottom line. A lot of us feel like, ‘If you let me keep my fence, I'll even pay some money to fix it,' but they want everything to be the same.”
Cafaso at first said the company would not be tearing up residents' outdoor improvements, but later acknowledged that “gardens or patio-type arrangements might need to be temporarily removed during removal of the fence. It will take some construction to remove the fence.”
As for possessions such as grills, children’s toys or lawn furniture, Cafaso suggested residents store them in the basements of each unit.
The petition stated that “many of our basements, due to the age of the complex, have water issues, making the basements unsuitable for storage without the risk of mold and mildew.”
Residents sent the petition to management and the company's corporate offices in December, but never received a response.
A group of 15 residents, including Baumgartner, brought the matter to the Belknap County Courthouse on Wednesday, and received news they could not meet with a judge until June 20, 19 days after fence removal is scheduled to take place.
“Since now we’re in court action, that appears to be where the communication will take place,” Cafaso said, after stating there had been “individual conversations” with residents. “It’s not what we want, but that’s where we’ve been forced to communicate.”
“I get it, they’re a big corporation, all they care about is money, they don’t care about how we live,” Baumgartner said. “It’s like they’re taking away our last smidgeon of dignity.”
As Baumgartner started the process of digging up her flowers with hopes of transplanting them somewhere else, she pointed out there was nowhere else for her to go. She pays $1,200 monthly for her abode on Blueberry Lane, a price she and her 23-year-old son cannot match elsewhere in the Lakes Region.
“We’ve kept residents informed of the plans since late last year, and we have heard back from some of them regarding their concerns on how this will be different for them," Cafaso said. “That’s the kind of communication that should continue to happen. Obviously we will listen to the residents to hear their concerns and see if we can accommodate them.
“At the same time, this is private property, the fences are 20 years old, they’re in a huge state of disrepair, beyond maintenance. They’re unsafe and dangerous.”
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