Who's breaking windows in town? Residents at odds over vandalism in New Windsor

April 12, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

Juvenile vandalism is becoming more of a problem in New Windsor, but residents disagree about who's causing the trouble.

The Town Council, a resident trooper and some of the more vocal residents blame children who live in apartments owned by John Connell Sr., a local businessman who has about 60 units in town.

Mr. Connell has heard the allegations against his renters. He says he doesn't think the children involved live in his apartments.

But even if they do, Mr. Connell said, it is not his concern.

"They are arguing about the kids, and that's not my problem," he said.

Town residents say they don't want him to rent to families with children, he said.

"But what am I going to do?" he asked. "You can't discriminate. I can't not rent to people because they have kids."

Mr. Connell said he thinks many of the youngsters causing the problems are not from the town. But town residents want to believe his renters are at fault because many live in subsidized, low-income housing, he said.

"I know the kids messing around are not kids renting from me. They are coming from Union Bridge and over in Linwood and across the railroad tracks," said Mr. Connell.

"But the town says it's the welfare kids and the HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development] people. This is an old town, and they are set on what they want."

A recent increase in vandalism -- windows broken in homes, New Windsor Middle School and local businesses -- has residents worried.

A crowd of more than 100 met March 30 to discuss forming a community watch. The two-hour session eventually erupted with demands that town officials, residents and police take action against the increasing criminal activity and the youths that "everyone knows" are responsible.

Donna Alban, one of the more vocal residents at the Community Watch Program meeting, said she and her husband, Tracey, were victims of the vandals about a month ago.

"The back window of our car was broken out when it was parked at the rear of our home. We don't have a garage," said Mrs. Alban, who lives with her family on Main Street. "It was one of those rainy nights, you know. It just made my day. I was thrilled."

Tony Farace said his auto repair business has been struck several times in the past three years.

"I've got a three-story building, and the windows on the first two stories are all plexiglass because every one of them has been broken out," said Mr. Farace, co-owner of New Windsor Automotive Specialties on High Street.

"They took a door off a Mustang, a carburetor out of a customer's car, and we can't keep gas in any of the vehicles."

He said one customer's Nissan pickup had its windshield smashed and its side mirror and antenna broken off.

"I've been in business here for about 11 years, and in the last three or so this town has changed drastically," Mr. Farace said.

Councilwoman Rebecca H. Harman said vandalism has increased steadily over the past four years. She said it was around that time that Mr. Connell purchased the building at Main and High streets where he maintains his office and six apartments.

Residents complain that the building at 134 Main St. is constantly populated by juveniles -- some as young as 10 -- who make noise late into the night.

"In the last four years, that [building] has been his property, and it wasn't before," Ms. Harman said. "And the problems have increased over the last four years."

The town has taken steps to deal with problems as they occur. Residents and town officials met Tuesday with a representative from the state's attorney's office, who offered several options.

Residents and town officials were told they could contact the county's juvenile services office to file a grievance against a specific child if he or she caused problems. Parents can be fined and otherwise held accountable for their children's public behavior.

On Wednesday, the Town Council amended an ordinance to enact a curfew: People under 18 are not allowed on the street after 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and after 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

State Trooper Phil Henry warned at the meeting that the curfew and other ordinances concerning the behavior of juveniles would be strictly enforced.

A resident of one of Mr. Connell's Church Street rental units, who asked not to be named, agreed there is a serious problem with children in town, but she doesn't think a blanket statement about the children of Mr. Connell's renters applies.

"I understand that there is a problem, but when you bring money into it, you know, saying it's the poor kids doing it, that's wrong," said the mother of two.

"All the money in the world won't give you morals."

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