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Some Improvements in Maple Leaf Park, But ‘Fierce Battle’ Remains

Maple Leaf Park (Credit: Google Maps)

Maple Leaf Park (Credit: Google Maps)

The outspoken resident of the Maple Leaf Park condominium complex, whose comments before the Brick Township Council last fall sparked a discussion on anti-crime measures and a rental responsibility ordinance, says there has been an improvement in the neighborhood, but crime issues linger and more work should be done.

James Cancel, who has described rampant drug dealing and other criminal activity in the troubled complex, said the rental responsibility ordinance – under which landlords can be held responsible for renting to tenants who commit crimes – has had an effect on the community, but the complex is embroiled in a tense contest over its association.

“You guys, with what you did, really have rocked the situation,” said Cancel. “It’s a fierce battle right now.”

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Board members at the complex – many of whom own units in Maple Leaf Park but do not live there themselves – defended their record at a township council meeting last fall after Cancel initially spoke out. Rental units account for about 70 percent of the complex, making it difficult for prospective buyers to qualify for mortgages. The result, some homeowners have said, is that investors often buy the properties and rent to tenants who cause trouble.

Cancel said current board members with an interest in maintaining the status quo have been sending scathing campaign letters criticizing Cancel, who is seeking a seat on the board.

Though the rental ordinance has made an impact, Cancel said, he and other residents of the community have said the crime issues linger. One resident, whose name Shorebeat is withholding for his own protection, said recently that there is a “constant smell of marijuana” through the neighborhood, and it is not uncommon for some residents to allow their dogs to defecate and urinate in hallways.

“The … criminal element has taken root again” after Shorebeat first published an article on the complex last fall, the resident said. “Appeals to the association about any of these problems go ignored.”

There have been no citations issued yet under the rental responsibility ordinance, said Township Administrator Joanne Bergin. But the township has taken steps to be more forceful in its enforcement of township codes.

“We have significantly increased our presence in all rental communities through the hiring of a code enforcement official specifically to address some of the issues that have been raised in regards to irresponsible landlords,” Bergin said.

Since the ordinance is new, it may take time for hearings to take place, as state law requires two crimes to be criminal convictions before such a hearing can be held.

Additionally, Councilwoman Andrea Zapcic said the township B-Mac organization has continued its efforts to expand after-schools programs in the neighborhood to keep youth occupied and away from crime.

“We’re reaching out to some of the agencies of the community to see if we can get in there a third day during the week,” said Zapcic. “We have been working on this from multiple approaches.”