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Michael Eng | Managing Editor
East County Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 5 years ago

Observed: Readers respond to challenge

by: Michael Eng Executive Editor

Last week, in the wake of the murder of Riverwalk Hammock resident Ina Gross, I challenged Lakewood Ranch residents to “take back” their community.

That challenge came after several readers contacted me in exasperation regarding the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office’s tight-lipped approach to its ongoing investigation.

Although the Sheriff’s Office remains silent regarding details surrounding the crime, Lakewood Ranch residents responded to my challenge. Riverwalk Hammock Communications Chair Paul Kraft and resident Jamie Grollman have partnered to try to launch such a program for their community.

Furthermore, several other residents contacted me regarding their own safety concerns. Most asked to remain anonymous — a request I consider a symptom of an ongoing trend challenging the very fabric of our community.

Consider these thoughts:

“Just in the past six months, my car was broken into in my driveway; looted and damaged twice,” a 12-year Lakewood Ranch resident told me. “Our entire neighborhood was hit the same Friday evening as well.

“Just the other day, I received a call from our alarm company indicating the alarm was tripped and they called the police,” the resident said. “Fortunately, it was just the housecleaning lady that set it off and forgot the code. But I couldn’t reach my wife and daughters via telephone when it happened, and because I work in Clearwater, you can imagine how worried I was.”

Or these, which come from a Riverwalk Hammock resident:

“The tragic death of Ina has made me a little more on guard when I arrive home late in the evening from someplace, eager to get that garage door shut ASAP,” the resident said.

Or how about this reaction to a missionary handing out tracts:

“We were expecting a neighbor to deliver something to our door,” the resident said. “When the doorbell rang, we saw a couple whose shadow at our door resembled our friends. We opened the door and surprise! Wrong! A large man with a bag over his shoulder and a small woman announced themselves by quotes from the Bible.

“Flustered, my wife mumbled something about ‘no solicitations in this neighborhood,’” the resident said. “Now, likely no harm was intended, but is it possible that ‘bad people’ can take advantage of these religious campaigns and gain entry to your home by pretending to be missionaries? These folks carried no identification. Even if they did, how would we know if it is real?”

(One note of clarification: Throughout Lakewood Ranch — and likely every deed-restricted community — solicitation is prohibited. Each homeowners association should have some variation of that restriction, so if you are curious, take a look at your neighborhood’s covenant.)

Each of these anecdotes carries one similar sentiment: We no longer feel safe in Lakewood Ranch.

It’s a sentiment that hit close to home for the East County Observer staff last week. As we went to press, I attempted to reach one of our writers concerning a last-minute question. When she didn’t respond within a half-hour, I grew annoyed. After an hour, I left messages wherever I could. And after two-and-one-half hours, my wife and I drove to her home.

When we arrived, the lights were on, her car was in the driveway, but no one answered the door. And just as my thoughts turned to grabbing a rock and hurling it through the front window, she returned from walking her dog. Her cell phone had died while she was out on assignment, and therefore, all my attempts to contact had gone unnoticed.

As a rush of relief (coupled with just a dash of editor’s rage) washed over me, two men in a white van turned down her street and began to slow down near us. Before I could formulate a plan to get all of us either in my car or in the house, the driver rolled down his window.

To ask us if we wanted to buy some steaks.

So much for those deed restrictions, huh?

Church removes pro-life display
On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church last week placed 365 crosses on its property as an anti-abortion display.

Then, on Jan. 23, members of the Knights of Columbus Council 1334 removed the display, which, according to the church’s agreement with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, required approval. According to one church member, the crosses were to remain for a longer period of time.

Candice McElyea, SMR’s director of marketing and public relations, issued this statement:

“Lakewood Ranch is a diverse community in which differing points of view are welcome, indeed encouraged,” she said. “But, as a planned community, we do have rules regarding the placement of signs. … SMR’s concern was based on aesthetics, not politics or religion.”

As staunch First Amendment supporters, our initial reaction was a stinging one. Upon further review, however, we see this is not as a freedom of speech issue but rather one regarding the church’s agreement with SMR. This requirement is one to which Our Lady of the Angels agreed.

However, this display begs the question: What is the “approvable” appearance for a sign? McElyea told me each sign undergoes a review and that the criteria by which SMR considers signs is dense.

“Every sign in Lakewood Ranch has to be approved ... to ensure consistency and aesthetic value,” she said.

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