Neighborhood watch

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Four months before Democrat Cynthia Neff launched her official bid to unseat Republican Supervisor Ken Boyd, the two squared off at Hollymead Elementary School over expanding the Albemarle County growth area. The room was filled with residents of Forest Lakes—the 1,400-unit development that houses roughly 5,000 people, many of them voters in the Hollymead precinct.

Cynthia Neff and Ken Boyd may have to wrestle for a slim majority in Forest Lakes. Boyd wond his past two elections by fewer than 200 votes; the bulk of the ballots that secured his victory came from Forest Lakes and the Hollymead Precinct.

Months after he voted against a growth area expansion, Boyd told the crowd that Albemarle’s growth area lost roughly 900 acres, largely due to the sale of Biscuit Run. He emphasized that adding to the growth area was not the same as approving more development. Neff was one of the first members in the audience to speak against him.

“For five years, we watched traffic get worse and the environment degrade, and no infrastructure improvements,” Neff told the room.

Lyn Holt, a resident of Forest Lakes North for more than 10 years, addressed Boyd not long after Neff. The audience, she told him, doesn’t speak for the whole neighborhood.

“There are people out there who think you’re doing a great job,” said Holt.

Hollymead’s largest residential development could almost single-handedly decide whether Neff or Boyd represents Rivanna—which, in turn, means that the neighborhood will also pick the supervisor responsible for one of the most scrutinized stretches of land in Albemarle. Boyd recently appointed a citizen review task force to provide public input on the Western Bypass’ Northern Terminus, which is slated for construction near the intersection of 29N and Ashwood Boulevard, a Forest Lakes entrance. Add the potential for more growth area discussions and a few large holdings by developer Wendell Wood, and the voters in Forest Lakes hold the potential to alter more than the political landscape.

The Hollymead precinct that houses Forest Lakes receives more votes than any other two Rivanna precincts combined. When Boyd was elected in 2003, it was by a margin of 178 votes. In 2007, when Boyd ran for reelection against Democrat Marcia Joseph, that margin was even smaller. Both candidates spent in the area of $47,000 for an election that was ultimately decided by 149 votes, a margin largely built in Forest Lakes and the Hollymead District, where Boyd won by 116 votes.

“It’s a very important precinct in the Rivanna district,” said Joseph. “It’s huge and diverse in its voting.”

It’s similarly diverse in its giving. Last week, the Virginia Public Access Project released its most recent round of fundraising reports, which showed that Neff outraised Boyd two-to-one, with roughly $25,000 amassed during the month and more than $64,000 in her coffers, to Boyd’s $41,000. Both received contributions from Forest Lakes residents, who likely continue to talk with each other and do the candidates’ work of trying to sway any Forest Lakes resident who happens to be on the fence.

“I’ve been knocking on doors there, he’s been knocking on doors there,” Neff said recently. “We’re both trying to have a presence there, and trying to get those folks to vote for us.”

On Wednesday evening, Forest Lakes resident and Democrat Grace Zisk hosted a party for Neff at her home. “We don’t need any more big stores,” Zisk told C-VILLE. “We have stores that are empty, such as Circuit City… You don’t see the whole Board of Supervisors in on this. You see Ken.”

Meanwhile, fellow Forest Lakes resident Clarence Roberts, a Boyd supporter, gave steadily to the supervisor’s campaign between July and August. Roberts, who did not return requests for comment, also supported Boyd in 2007 with a $121 in-kind contribution to his campaign. The contribution? A letter to his neighbors.

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Neighborhood watch

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Residents of Crescent Hall and Fifeville want more police officers patrolling their neighborhood during the day and night, especially in Tonsler Park. For several years, concerns over community policing, in which officers are assigned to specific neighborhoods, have been persistent at both sites. But last Wednesday night, during an open meeting with City Council members at the Crescent Hall public housing project, residents put their calls for improved law enforcement ahead of numerous maintenance issues, from broken elevators to overflowing toilets.

Residents of Crescent Hall (pictured), the second largest public housing site in the city, told Council members last week that they wanted improved community policing around their home as well as Tonsler Park, which saw more than 100 drug violations within a half-mile radius in the last year.

While Tonsler Park is finally undergoing improvements, some residents said they don’t feel comfortable sending their children to play in an area they claim is known for drug problems. (An eighth grade student from Buford Middle School confirmed the sentiment.) The park, part of the Fifeville neighborhood, is only a half-mile walk from Crescent Hall, but that half-mile is enough for some parents to keep their children indoors. The city’s CrimeView website lists 106 drug violations within a half-mile radius of the park in the last year. Narrowed to within 1,000′ of the park, the search produced 26 drug violations.

Officer Harvey Finkel told residents that the best way to protect a community investment is to alert police to suspicious activity. Residents replied that police officers are in the vicinity at odd times, and it would perhaps be beneficial to have a few stationed on-site permanently.  

“Unfortunately, I don’t think the city has the resources from any department to put someone down there all day, every day to watch the park,” said Finkel.

According to Finkel, the Charlottesville Police Department has six community police officers dispatched in three different city neighborhoods: two on Prospect Avenue (south of Tonsler), two for Hardy Drive in the Westhaven public housing project, and two for Fifeville. 

Lieutenant Ronnie Roberts tells C-VILLE that the two officers who are assigned to Fifeville have been there for the past two years. They work in the park during the day and regular police officers take over at night, until 1am or 2am. Putting a full-time officer at the park day and night would not be “cost-effective,” and the struggling economy has strained the department’s resources.

“We are providing police services to the area, not only from the community policing unit, but we are also utilizing staff from field operations…to also police the area,” says Roberts. “It’s what we call a collaborative effort.”

Roberts says the patrolling has yielded some results. “We have seen a dramatic drop in calls for service there at the park,” he says. “We staffed it with police officers during the evenings and the officers have been doing walking patrols.”  

Crescent Hall resident Mary Carey, who wasn’t satisfied with Finkel’s responses, told Council members that, years ago, community policing felt inclusive and played a very important role in the neighborhood. Today, however, it has taken on new meaning.

“Community policing is like it says: community policing,” said Carey. “It’s not spot-checking police officers in neighborhoods. It’s bringing the neighborhood and the police together to police the neighborhood.” 

Mayor Dave Norris said that in the past the Charlottesville Police Department had more officers who grew up in town and knew the community intimately. “I’d like to see us figure out a better way of trying to recruit and develop more talent from within the community, because that’s going to help with community policing,” he responded.  

For Crescent Hall resident Overy Johnson, creating a safe neighborhood goes beyond strict police work. In fact, Johnson, who grew up in New York City, says the community could police itself if its infrastructure, like parks, were regularly improved.

“It’s not about intimidating these young kids out there,” he tells C-VILLE. “Give the kids something they need.”

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