LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Home security and gate safety worry residents living in Districts 2, 5 and 6 and the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club area.
Concern has grown after two mid-morning break-ins were reported in February in the Thornhill community on the golf course, when sliding doors in the back of the homes were jimmied open. The burglaries came just as residents said they were beginning to feel safe again after several burglaries last fall resulted in an arrest.
At the urging of the community, the Inter-District Authority, managers for the development districts, held a Town Hall meeting Wednesday where more than 50 residents attended a presentation on gate technology and security, followed by crime prevention advice from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
Two Lakewood Ranch gates are manned by security guards at Balmoral Woods Boulevard and Legacy Boulevard and three other gates within those areas are routinely checked.
Residents complain security guards at the gates don't follow protocol and communication breakdowns exist between the guards and hundreds of visitors and vendors who ask for gate entry each month.
Each gate is equipped with audio and video surveillance. License plates are photographed and guard conversations are recorded, said Ryan Heise, IDA operations director.
Residents can pre-register visitors at a private intranet site, gateacces.net. But Heise said it's best not to promote this until the districts give their OK and gate technology system is upgraded.
"Our focus right now is to make sure that the new technology upgrades are seamless, our server in the Legacy gatehouse is stable, our communications software at Town Hall is improved and we move to a new barcode transponder," Heise said.
Angela Johnson, a Thornhill resident, called for more scrutiny to make sure gate guards follow standard operating procedures.
"We need to have confidence in the people that operate the gates and that Town Hall enforces it. I want some kind of reassurance that this will be an ongoing issue as part of our services," Johnson said.
Fran Mastrelli, who lives in the Silverwood section of District 6, said the two-lane road leading into the community at the Balmoral Gate is too narrow for large trucks.
"The excess amount of vendor traffic is horrendous. We need axle restrictions because the trucks coming in are too big," said Mastrelli, who also expressed concern for the safety of pedestrians, moms with baby strollers and bicyclists in the area.
Silverwood resident Tom Willson suggested the community issue transponders with restricted days and usage hours to trusted vendors.
"I know a lot of vendors who would be wiling to pay for these special transponders," Willson said.
"To make matters worse, there's been a great turnaround in these neighborhoods from the original homeowners, so the information about security in Lakewood Ranch is confusing because they're not informed," said Bill Grimes, a neighborhood representative for Oakmont.
Despite the concerns, a security survey circulated to the residents of Districts 2, 5, and 6 calling for increased patrols from the sheriff's office failed to gain enough support.
"This wasn't apathy," said Dick Moran, safety committee chairman for the Country Club/Edgewater Village Association, after announcing survey results at a homeowners association meeting last week. "Residents apparently felt the level of security we have is fine, but people were upset about the burglaries."
Moran said he favored adding 12-hour police patrols daily.
Capt. Lorenzo Waiters of the sheriff's office gave residents tips for preventing theft and crime.
"The biggest problem is people who leave their cars unlocked in the driveway when they come home at night, and they leave their wallets, cell phones and iPads in the car. Burglars walk the streets at night, and the first thing they do is try the car doors," Waiters said. "Take everything with you in the house, especially your garage door opener."
The captain also suggested residents not answer the door for strangers, turn on alarms at night and install motion-sensitive lights around the house. For single women who live alone, he suggested leaving a big pair of men's boots outside the front door.
The IDA is posting an audio recording of the Town Hall meeting at lakewoodranchgov.org. It will also issue an advisory regarding the refurbishing of the Legacy guardhouse in a few weeks, which will result in several lane closures during the day.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.