Residents want walkway locked after hours

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 30, 2012

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A walkway meant as a convenience has become decidedly inconvenient for homeowners in a neighborhood near 18 Mile and Van Dyke.

Armed with petitions signed by fellow residents of Buckingham Estates, David Lemaux approached City Council earlier this month seeking partial closure of the walkway between 8691 and 8703 Hamilton East, which links his subdivision with a network of condominiums and apartments.

The wide, fence-lined sidewalk extends north from Hamilton East, in a single-family residential area, to the intersection of Langley and Winchester, where it culminates in a series of concrete columns barring access to vehicles at the multifamily housing complexes.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, the passage was empty and sedate, almost unnoticeable. But Lemaux said it’s a very different story after hours.

“I’ve been in this house for 43 years,” he said, “and just the past couple of years, the problem is starting to occur.”

Those problems, alleges Lemaux, include littering, loitering and harassment by juveniles who have alighted on the walkway as their congregation spot of choice.

“They smoke dope on the walkway, they urinate on the walkway,” he said. “It’s absolutely insane.”

They mill the neighborhood at all hours, regularly engage in loud, expletive-laced conversations, have broken into fights amongst themselves, and ridicule neighbors who alert police, he said.

“I live five houses from the walkway, and I can hear the cussing from my house,” he said.

Lemaux claims he’s seen suspicious youngsters “casing out” homes, and there have been a number of vehicle break-ins. The juveniles once began an impromptu basketball game in his daughter’s driveway, a few blocks away, and regularly tease one neighbor’s rescue dog by spitting at it, poking at it with a stick and beating on the gate, he said.

Carly Alward, who lives close to the walkway with her husband, Rob, agreed that the contingent of lingering teens seems constant.

“There’s always kids in there smoking pot,” she said. “I don’t know why they think it’s such a great place to hang out. I think it would be beneficial for it to be closed, for the fact that they don’t need to be hanging out in the catwalk. There’s no reason for it.”

According to Lemaux, 90 neighbors signed the petitions in support of locking the walkway gate during non-school hours and over the summer.

Under the petitioners’ proposal, the gate would remain open 7 a.m.-4 p.m., and the key would be entrusted to Sterling Heights’ Department of Public Works or Utica Community Schools, as Lemaux said the walkway’s main purpose was to accommodate kids bound for Schwarzkoff Elementary, south of 18 Mile.

Lemaux said he’s hopeful for a resolution after showing the walkway to Mayor Richard Notte and Councilman Joseph Romano. Steve Guitar, the city’s community relations director, said municipal officials are looking into the issue on multiple fronts.

“It’s multifaceted,” said Guitar. “We’re working with the Police Department to see if there’s any reports of vandalism or calls for service out there, and we’re working with the school district, too.”

At press time, Lt. Luke Riley of the Sterling Heights Police Department said he did not have any tallies of juvenile-related calls to the area immediately available.

Guitar said the matter is complicated because it appears the walkway is private property belonging to the residential complex, so City Attorney Jeff Bahorski is looking into the legalities of the issue.

A staffer who answered the phone at Sterling Commons Apartments in mid-October seemed surprised to hear about the Buckingham Estates’ residents’ complaints and said it was the first she’d heard of it.

A number listed online for Sterling Commons Condominiums is no longer operational.

UCS Director of School/Community Relations Tim McAvoy said the district doesn’t have any stance on the issue, considering the walkway is located on private property some distance away from Schwarz-koff.

In the past, catwalks have sometimes been hotspots for the kind of issues the Buckingham Estates residents have described, said Guitar, but true catwalks are usually city property, and the city has addressed those issues as they arose.

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