Issues regarding crime and construction have impacted Aspen Heights locations in Columbia and across the nation.
Aspen Heights began to look at Columbia as the latest site for its chain of complexes in 2011. In order to build a complex, the luxury student housing complex began looking to rezone the Regency Mobile Home Park. Debates for both sides began to either approve the rezoning or for the park to remain.
Due to the rezoning, the plot could not just be sold, graduate student Kara McGhee said.
“(The owners of the park) had to actually get the city council and the zoning board to approve the zoning and then the sale could take place,” McGhee said.
In order to rezone for the complex, the residents of the mobile home park would have to find somewhere else to live. Because of this, McGhee said she was a part of a group of students who opposed the construction of Aspen Heights.
“They just kept saying students needed this complex and most students I know don’t want to pay that much money to live somewhere, and most kids I know don’t want to kick out nearly 200 low-income residents, many of which are elderly and disabled and children,” McGhee said.
City Council voted in favor of the rezoning Nov. 21, 2011, and after, Aspen Heights began construction.
At that time, the construction of Aspen Heights was expected to lower the crime rate in the area, McGhee said.
Issues arise in Columbia
Bad weather and switching of construction companies during the winter led to complications for the move-in dates of many students set to live in Aspen Heights, corporate spokesman Stuart Watkins said.
All residents were able to move in Oct. 5 of this year. Crime problems later led to increased security measures at the complex.
“Limiting the number of visitors on property is a standard operating procedure for Aspen Heights when management and security monitors the amount of visitors on property,” Watkins said.
The expectation that crime was to drop after Aspen Heights moved in made McGhee feel disappointed, she said.
“It just goes to show, it’s easy for people to associate crime with low-income people and blame them for it,” McGhee said. “We associate crime with one group and not the other, and I think that’s the general problem with things like this.”
On Aug. 30, an armed robbery occurred at Aspen Heights, and Oct. 5, shots were fired at a party, according to a Columbia Police Department news release.
“It gets me down that the residents of Regency Mobile Home Park were badmouthed in the papers and by city officials and by the developer about crime rates in the area and then the student complex gets built and the crime is still going on,” McGhee said.
Other Aspen Heights locations have experienced similar issues at apartment complexes.
Multiple locations experience issues with resident move-in
Residents of Aspen Heights complexes in Clemson, S.C., and Stillwater, Okla., were also delayed due to construction problems.
Construction in Clemson was delayed due to an excessive amount of rainfall, Watkins said.
“I think like in a week or so they got 16 inches, so it calls for a delay in construction at the last minute,” Watkins said.
In Oklahoma, contractors began to leave the work on Aspen Heights to rebuild the state after a tornado swept through the area.
“So the teams there were becoming smaller and smaller just because of the increase of opportunities for construction to rebuild,” Watkins said. “All of a sudden, resources and materials became very limited because of everything going on in Oklahoma.”
Oklahoma State sophomore Taryn Sanderson had a delayed move-in date because of the construction issues and stayed in a hotel on campus.
“A lot of people were frustrated, including myself, but they gave us a gift card, a money card to use for food or gas and other things we needed to compensate for not living in our houses on time,” Sanderson said.
Aspen Heights also used these money cards to help delayed residents in Columbia.
Aspen Heights told Sanderson it had never moved anyone in late, Sanderson said.
“When I found out I couldn’t move in on time, I was frustrated, but then I also found out Missouri was having these issues,” Sanderson said. “I just thought it was funny he told me that they’ve never had to displace people here, and it’s not just happening at Stillwater. It’s happening at other universities as well.”
Sanderson said she was able to move in mid-September. However, the problems with Aspen Heights had not stopped there for her or at another university.
Crime occurs in various Aspen Heights locations
Crime is also happening within the Aspen Heights complex at Stillwater. The gates were not working and were put up within the last two weeks, Sanderson said.
“There were a lot of parties in the neighborhood,” Sanderson said. “A lot of people were in the neighborhood that weren’t supposed to be in the neighborhood; they didn’t live there. I think that was creating a lot of ruckus.”
During one night in the complex, Sanderson’s roommate’s tires were slashed.
“There are five girls in my house, and we just woke up the next day and all her tires were slashed, so that was kind of alarming,” Sanderson said. “After her tires got slashed, we were starting to worry, so we went to the office and asked, ‘How long are the gates going to be closed? Because this is not okay that this is happening.’”
Things have improved after the gates went up, Sanderson said.
“I feel a lot safer now that that’s taken care of,” Sanderson said. “That’s better now that they’ve closed the gates. Things like that won’t happen anymore hopefully.”
At James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., tightened security measures were also put into place. However, this is not because of partying, Watkins said.
“Whenever that property was built, the county would not allow us to put permanent fencing around the perimeter because there is a utility line that goes through the property and that utility company is in the process of replacing those poles,” Watkins said. “I guess over so many years they change out utility poles. So until the utility company can go in there and replace those poles, it wasn’t a permanent gated community.”
Because there was no permanent fencing, residents from other areas began crossing onto the Aspen Heights property, Watkins said.
“(There was) not any particular incident,” Watkins said. “The biggest thing there was because there wasn’t any permit visiting individuals were entering the property from a variety of different areas and they would park in the neighborhood next to Aspen Heights and walk through to get to the property.”
Rockingham County sheriff’s deputies responded to more than 25 calls to the complexes between Aug. 25 and Sept. 9. Most of the calls received include noise and drug violations, larceny, public intoxication, and two emergency medical service calls on on weekend nights, according to a Sept. 9, 2013 article in The Breeze, the student newspaper at JMU.
Additionally, the article quoted a resident of the complex, JMU senior Stephen Kurtzke as saying, “The security policy is insane. We have guards at the entrance, they’ve put up a fence around the whole place and sent out an email detailing all the “new policies” we didn’t agree to in the lease.”