Swing set must go, residents are told

Residents in a Fort Meade neighborhood are upset over a letter from the private company hired to overhaul housing at the Odenton post telling them to remove furniture, children's toys and other items left outdoors.

The letter, which residents across the post received from Picerne Military Housing this month, said residents need written approval to install playground equipment and cannot place furniture on patios unless it is "intended for outdoor use."


Along Kelly Court, one of several neighborhoods to receive the letter after a neighborhood inspection, residents said they were most upset about a clause they said calls their children's toys trash.

"Please refer to the Resident Responsibility Guide page 19 Section 3-4, which states: 'Resident further agrees to place no rubbish on patios or any other common areas, interior or exterior,'" the letter read. "This includes children's toys, bicycles, swimming pools and volleyball net/court."


Robert Chambless, a senior airman who moved out of his Kelly Court home this month, said the letter outraged the neighborhood.

"We're defending this country's freedom, and we're under high stress," Chambless said. "There are husbands that haven't seen their wives, kids who haven't seen Daddy - and what do they say? Get rid of the rubbish? You've got to be kidding me."

Picerne spokesman Bill Mulvey said the company is trying to keep the post neat - something homeowner associations off-post do all the time.

The letter is the latest evidence of tension between Picerne and residents involved in the long and expensive process of privatizing housing on Fort Meade.

Two years ago, Picerne Real Estate Group won a $3 billion contract to build and manage the houses at Fort Meade during the 50-year project. Picerne is spending about $400 million constructing nearly 3,000 homes for soldiers and their families.

About 6,000 military personnel and their families live on Fort Meade in houses long considered substandard. Residents have complained that the company is slow to make repairs in the homes, which date to the 1950s and have documented problems with asbestos, lead paint and old plumbing and wiring.

Chambless said he knew he did not have written permission when he put up a swing set on the common area property a few months ago. But he said he could not resist an ad in a local newspaper offering the swing set free to the person who could haul it away from a back yard off the post.

A new swing set for the 12 neighborhood children would cost about $600 - money Chambless said he and his cash-strapped neighbors didn't have.


Chambless said he and his neighbors also could not afford patio furniture, but they saw an opportunity to make some after a tree fell and wasn't hauled away. He and neighbors carved the wood into a bench and chairs, then used it as a place to gather.

They said they could not keep the toys and furniture in their back yards, as Picerne wants them to, because the yard slopes and is full of ticks, mosquitoes and poison ivy.

Mulvey said his company's effort to keep the post orderly is working. By Aug. 15, the deadline for cleaning up before another inspection, Mulvey said most residents had complied. But the Kelly Court swing set remained in a common area yesterday because no one claimed it, Mulvey said.

The neighborhood managers did not mean to call children's toys "rubbish," he said, adding that some porches had garbage on them in addition to toys.

"We're just looking at it as a normal housekeeping item," Mulvey said. "We're just trying to do the same thing the Army did before, which is to keep the neighborhoods a nice place to live."

Mulvey also said Picerne has improved its response time to maintenance requests, with about 90 percent of the orders repaired within 10 days.


Picerne has begun construction on the homes and expects families to move in by the end of summer. But because the old houses have so many problems, Mulvey said, Picerne can only do so much to fix up the post during the construction phase.

"Those houses still have a lot of things wrong with them and are not very appealing," he said. "The best thing we can do for the exteriors is send out letters to get them clean."