Sprawling apartment complex sees physical, emotional renaissance|[10/14/07]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rhonda Dorsey remembers what a Blossom Lane apartment complex represented not so long ago.

“It was known as a drug area,” said Dorsey, a single mother of two who started life anew last year by renting space at the previously troubled development.

Today, the grounds and buildings have undergone an extensive makeover following the bankruptcy of the previous management and its takeover by Alabama-based Temwall Properties LLC. Drab, blighted, government-subsidized units were replaced by refurbished ones with such amenities as washers and dryers, new stoves and carpeting. The complex near Oak Park is now known as Apple Orchard.

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Settling in to enjoy dinner with her 6-year-old daughter, Michaela, and 2-year-old son, Michael, the Warren Central Junior High School science teacher said she doesn’t regret her selection one bit.

The children “have plenty of playmates,” Dorsey said. “I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.”

It’s a sentiment shared by neighboring tenants in the 126-unit complex. To many, it is still remembered it by its previous incarnations, Eden Pointe and Timber Creek.

“Years ago, it was unsafe. But now, it feels safer,” said Carla Johnson, who moved into a two-bedroom unit in April. “It’s peaceful, and the kids get along with everybody.”

If plans are realized the way managers hope, the atmosphere will only improve more.

The decaying hulks which composed the old Timber Creek remain, overgrown and vermin-infested, but are set to be demolished to make way for either additional two- and three-bedroom units or townhouses. What’s left of the buildings are expected to come down in the spring of 2008, said Ken Cantrell, property manager for Temwall.

An access road to connect future tenants with Blossom Lane will be built through the 60 to 90 units Cantrell envisions for that portion of the seven-acre site. Landscaping will continue at the units now occupied and extend to the new apartments, including crepe myrtles, a mum garden at the main entrance, new parking timbers and added speed bumps. Playground equipment may replace a seldom-used putting green on one end of the complex.

Through enticements similar to the 39 furnished, corporate units on the site, Cantrell hopes the value of the property can grow to the $5 million mark estimated when the firm acquired the site. Currently, Apple Orchard is valued at $551,550.

Key to that plan will be keeping rents on par with current rates. Monthly rent for two-bedroom units is $699. Larger, three-bedroom apartments go for between $775 and $825. It compares favorably enough with such complexes as Cannongate and Bradford Ridge, where two-bedroom units rent at $695 and $600, respectively.

As for government-subsidized rentals, Wright said Apple Orchard stopped taking such arrangements last year.

“We’re thrilled to death,” Wright said, adding the atmosphere of the complex has been improved by more retirees and its corporate spaces rented to several workers from LeTourneau.

“Atmosphere and environment have everything to do with a person wanting to make it their home,” Wright said.

Wright said the abandoned former Timber Creek units remained a haven for vagrants and drug activity as the development’s eight occupied buildings underwent a facelift.

But, she said, major incidents have been kept to a minimum on her watch. For months after Hurricane Katrina, several evacuee families from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast rented space at Apple Orchard. Area churches and nonprofits helped organize a crawfish boil last summer, adding to a spirit of community she said has endured.

Still, figures from E-911 show the complex receives an inordinate number of service calls for a development its size.

Warren County deputies responded 153 times to the complex in the first seven months of 2007, an average of about five times a week. In 2005 and 2006, law enforcement responded a total of 540 times. Calls included responses made by deputies on routine patrol, responses to fights, reports of shots fired and loud music complaints.

The numbers reflect only a slight dropoff from the 297 calls in 2001, the last full year the two former developments were open.

Out of other similarly sized apartments, the 152-unit Confederate Ridge Apartments had 174 law enforcement calls so far this year. Cannongate, Bradford Ridge and Commodore & River Oaks have had fewer, with five, eight and 10 law enforcement calls for the year to date, respectively.

“I think they’re trying,” Sheriff Martin Pace said. “It hasn’t been the crime mecca it was in the mid-1990s, but it still has a higher-than-average request for services for law enforcement.”

Two calls for fire response were reported this year. Renovation to the complex was temporarily halted in 2004 when 13 emptied units were gutted by an early morning blaze. Two other structures within the former Timber Creek were destroyed by fire in a spectacular blaze in the 1990s.

In September, the taxing district for the Fisher Ferry Volunteer Fire Department was expanded to include several more acres of territory in which Apple Orchard is included.

For her part, Wright, 59, a native of Yokena, has tried to make her experience work in the complex’s favor.

While running Southern Security in Vicksburg during the 1980s, she also oversaw apartment restoration for Coder Properties in Tulsa, Okla.

“We would acquire properties and bring them back to their original state.” Wright said.

While property values to homes in the vicinity of Apple Orchard may be a concern for some, particularly in Oak Park where values average more than $100,000, it isn’t regarded as having a negative effect to developments on the way.

Homes in the Eastvillage subdivision being built between Lee Road and Old Highway 27 figure to be at least that much.

Its preliminary plats approved by Warren County supervisors, lots have been planned for 35 homes expected to sell for $150,000 or more. Its developer, Robert Morrison III, sees nothing but good things have if Apple Orchard’s refurbishments stay on track.

“I’m not familiar with their plans, but it can be nothing but a positive for the area,” Morrison said.