Gate stops teens, angers parents
By EILEEN SCHULTE
CLEARWATER -- As last Tuesday night turned into Wednesday, Eddie Meyer was still on the job unloading pallets and mulch from a truck at Home Depot.
Finally, off the clock and dead tired, the 19-year-old drove home in the darkness to The Vinings at Countryside apartment complex.
But when he got to the entrance, he was stopped by the long arm of a huge white metal security gate that blocked his Grand Prix from entering beyond the visitor's area of the property.
Feeling a bit guilty, he had no choice but to go to a nearby call box and press the button for his apartment near the back of the complex.
The loud noise roused his 70-year-old father, who dragged himself out of bed to buzz in Eddie.
It was 2 a.m.
Ed Meyer wasn't angry at Eddie, he was worried.
"If I'm not home, how is he going to get in?" he asked.
Neighbors at The Vinings share Meyer's concern. They say management installed the gate early last week and will not issue teenage residents electronic pass keys to activate it and drive their cars through.
"Only lease-holders will get the key," said Kathleen Skiba, holding up a white, flat piece of plastic resembling a credit card. "I've lived here four years and can't get my daughter in and out. The (delivery people) have keys to get in. My kid doesn't.
"It's a question of her safety," she said. "She's supposed to walk to the back where we live in a thunderstorm? They're taking away her access. I just want my kid to get home."
Residents like Tim McLain, a financial analyst for BayCare and single father of Steve, 16, will not put their teenagers on their leases because they do not want the children to be financially liable if something should happen to them and they are unable to pay the rent.
Tenants pay about $1,000 a month to live at The Vinings, Skiba said.
The idea is "ridiculous" McLain said because "my son is a resident just like I am."
Residents say The Vinings management told them that children without keys would be let in by the office staff, but the office is open only until 6 p.m. weekdays and 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Even those who are dropped off by friends or walk to the complex must enter through a locked gate. The pedestrian gate, like the vehicle gate, requires a key, and those are issued only to lease-holders.
"I had to give my pedestrian key to my son," said McLain.
Skiba said she believes there is a simple reason for the management's new rule: "I think they are trying to get rid of people with teens."
But because of the gate, Skiba and several other residents contacted by the St. Petersburg Times are making plans to move out.
Things weren't always this way at The Vinings, a property nestled in palm trees along McMullen-Booth Road near Countryside High School. Skiba said life was almost idyllic there until the property was sold about a year ago to Palm Beach multimillionaire Richard Schlesinger. A company Schlesinger owns, Ceebraid Signal Management, oversees the complex.
Calls to Schlesinger, Ceebraid Signal Management and the on-site property manager were not returned late last week.
Schlesinger, 58, a real estate mogul who lives in a $13-million oceanfront mansion, has owned apartment complexes in several states for years.
Records show that he has been sued several times and has been barred from participation in federal housing programs.
That edict stems from a case in which he was ordered by the federal government in 2000 to pay a $500,000 fine after he admitted skimming money from a rundown Maryland apartment complex he owned.
Residents at The Vinings are worried about the direction their complex is headed.
The buildings, especially those in the rear of the property, appear dirty and drab. According to residents, the pool once turned green and they were barred from using it. They also were barred from the weight room, an amenity they pay for.
Residents also say cracks have formed in the ceilings, allowing water to drip into some apartments, leaky showers are not repaired for weeks despite repeated requests to management.
"None of my windows work," said Pat Fraunfelter, 53, who moved to the complex from Chicago nine months ago. "Our breezeway gets so dirty I've mopped it myself five times."
Skiba said complaints to the management fall on deaf ears.
But with the installation of the new security gate, parents said they are less worried about leaky showers and stained sidewalks and fear more for their children's safety.
Since the installation of the gate, cars attempting to enter the property back up and spill out onto busy McMullen-Booth Road.
"They are artificially creating a slowdown," said McLain. "It's just a matter of time before someone is killed."
The Vinings' south gate also was locked. School buses that once used that entrance now stop on McMullen-Booth Road to pick up and drop off students.
McLain, who planned to stay at the complex for three years while he saves to buy a house, wants to move now, but can't afford it.
"They are charging people $1,000 to break their leases," he said.
But Skiba already has some of her belongings packed.
"I have a contract on a house," she said.
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