All quiet in Gable Oaks ... for now

jwilkinson@thestate.comJuly 3, 2008 

Sitting on the porch at the Gable Oaks apartments was a luxury that tenants couldn’t always enjoy. It could get them killed.

But for the past three months, one longtime resident, Annie “Grandma” Gill, has been able to enjoy the air.

“It’s much quieter,” she said.

The 76-year-old Gill has lived in the embattled Eau Claire apartment complex for 15 years. She keeps an array of weapons behind her door — an old, yellow mop handle, a stick and a bat.

When three killings occurred in as many months in and around the complex earlier this year, Gill was too afraid to talk to police.

“The lady at the police station asked me, ‘Did you see the shooter?’” she recalled recently. “I say, ‘Lady, you must think I’m a damn fool.’”

Since the shootings, Gable Oaks had become a model of security, proof that private security and intensified police patrols can keep residents safe.

“We haven’t had any more violence,” resident president Mary Myerssaid last month. “Down in Gable Oaks, it’s nice and quiet now.”

When The State newspaper printed the names of the manager and owners of Gable Oaks after the February shooting, the companies took steps to control the violence.

Owner SunTrust Bank of Atlanta and manager The Beach Co. of Charleston — both big firms embarrassed by the publicity -- took some strong steps.

• They hired private security guards to patrol from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m., Mondays through Thursdays, and 24 hours on the weekends.

• They cut back underbrush around the complexes that could hide attackers and drug dealers.

• They began requiring parking stickers on residents’ cars.

• And they began demanding identification from anyone walking into the complex.

Also, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and the Columbia Police Department increased their patrols in the area.

“They (the owners and police) stepped up to the plate,” said City Council member Sam Davis, who represents the area.

Then, in May, SunTrust sold the property.

Gable Oaks was put on the market along with 14 other lower-income housing complexes in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

Efforts to reach Carl Raab of Transom Development, SunTrust’s regional property arm, for comment were unsuccessful.

A partnership that already owns nearly 29,000 apartment units on the East Coast bought the complex, along with Arrington Place in Columbia, Sycamore Run in Lancaster and Holly Brook in Edgefield.

Myers said the new managers, Edgewood Management of Silver Spring, Md., have canceled the private security, she said.

Columbia police and deputies continue to keep watch, however. So far, there have been no more acts of violence.

“I don’t feel good about it,” Myers said.

Carroll Kisser who put the partnership together, said the companies who bought the properties were his Mid-City Financial Corp. of Silver Spring, Md., and Boston’s Stratford Capital Group.

Kisser said he did not know about the public controversy surrounding Gable Oaks or the status of the security measures.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue the improvements there,” he said. “We didn’t acquire it to make it go further downhill.”

Kisser referred questions about security to new managers Edgewood Management Corp., also of Silver Spring.

Repeated efforts to reach Jack Murray for comment were unsuccessful, although telephone messages were exchanged.

Gill said she hopes things remain safe. But she still goes inside from the porch at night.

"I feel all right, but that's habit,” she said. “I feel a lot better when I'm in the house."

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