WILKES-BARRE — The shootings of two men Tuesday night at the Sherman Hills apartment complex raised questions for the chairman of city council about security measures to be undertaken by the new owner.
Bill Barrett on Wednesday said he would contact the owners for an update on how their plans compared to those of the previous owner that promised “large-scale improvements” worth $100,000 after a federal report found lax oversight exposed tenants to life-threatening security issues at the 344-unit complex.
The shootings happened less than a week after a city official said the owners were not planning on having “24-7” security at the complex that’s been the scene of violent crimes and a fatal shooting last November.
Police said two black men in their 20s were shot during an attempted robbery. The men were found in building 328 at approximately 11:30 p.m., police said.
One of the men was shot in the left leg and the other man was shot in the torso, police said. They were taken to a local hospital, police said. City detectives are investigating.
“I personally feel that’s a mistake,” Barrett, a former city police chief, said.
“I don’t think it’s an unreasonable thing that they provide security for their residents,” he added.
Complex owner mum
A message left with Treetop Development of Teaneck, New Jersey, whose Sherman Hills Holdings LLC purchased the complex in April for $15.8 million, was not returned.
But U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, said in an email that he spoke Wednesday with John VanMetre, director of property management at The Aspen Companies, a related company of Treetop Development.
“As I have said from the beginning, an essential concern of mine is that Treetop will follow through on as many of the assurances made by the prior owner as possible. On some fronts, I think good progress is being made,” Cartwright said.
Among the changes he listed were cosmetic improvements that were previously promised, the camera system has been repaired and community outreach to the state Department of Aging and local nonprofits.
“The main challenge that remains is the question of whether the prior owner’s promise of a gate/guard house system can be fulfilled and, if so, to what extent. Mr. VanMetre and I are continuing to discuss this question,” Cartwright said.
The task force, formed by Cartwright will meet in mid-August and VanMetre will attend.
The city, a task force made up of local, state and federal elected officials, and community leaders worked with the previous owner, Sherman Hills Realty LLC of Brooklyn, New York “to come up with a viable solution” to the problems listed in a U.S. Housing and Urban Development report released last November, Barrett said.
HUD directed Sherman Hills Realty to list the corrective measures it would make or face sanctions and the loss of federal subsidies under the Section 8 housing program.
Last year, Sherman Hills Realty received approximately $2 million rental subsidies. In December the company presented its plans to city council that included an armed guard patrolling the complex for 10 to 12 hours a day, the installation at the main entrance of a guard station to be staffed around the clock, improved lighting and security cameras and an 8-foot high fence around the property.
At last week’s city council meeting city Administrator Marie McCormick responded to a question from a resident asking about security at Sherman Hills. She said the city met with a representative of the new owner a few weeks ago. She did not identify the representative.
“He was going to work on shoring up the Sherman Hills entrance, better, the one that comes off across from (Coal Street Park) because that is a very dangerous spot,” McCormick said.
In addition, other improvements are in the works.
But, McCormick pointed out, “He said right now he didn’t believe the investment in 24-7 security would happen. However, he did have a plan that he was going to go back to the zoning board with a guard station and two access points with gates, and it’s just going to be a different one than what the previous owner had proposed.”
Barrett asked that another meeting be scheduled as soon as possible so that he and council members could attend.
“There was a large-scale security improvement plan that the previous owners had come up with, and I want to see how that compares to what the new owners are planning,” he said.
Around-the-clock security can easily be put into place, Barrett said. The new owners can contract out for the service, just as the previous owner planned to do, he said.