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Thursday, July 22, 2004 09:46 am

Coming together

It all began with a serial burglar.

Some two years ago, in midafternoon, an intruder looted jewelry and electronics from Erin Conley's home on the edge of Lincoln Park. The incident marked the second residential burglary that day on Conley's block of North Fourth Street.

The break-ins led Conley to help initiate a neighborhood-watch program, administered through the Springfield Police Department.

But Conley and others involved in the program quickly found that scores of people in the surrounding community wanted to participate. In addition to reducing crime, they sought a forum to discuss ways to improve the quality of their neighborhoods.

Conley now serves on the executive board of the newly formed Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, which attracted more than 80 people to its first public meeting, held July 15 at St. Joseph Church.

"Since the burglary, I've gotten to know my neighbors so much better," Conley says.

The Lincoln Park group marks Springfield's 60th registered neighborhood association, representing communities throughout the city, according to Joe Zeibert, associate planner with the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission.

Although such groups are best known for promoting clean, safe streets, Zeibert says they also play a key role in development plans.

"We inform the neighborhood associations of any zoning cases being discussed within their boundaries," he says.

Leaders of the Lincoln Park association -- which covers the area from North Grand Avenue to Black Avenue and from Third Street to Eighth Street -- say they want to safeguard the area from unwanted development and crime.

Executive board member Michelle Bretscher worries about the impact of the planned medical district centered along Carpenter Street. She fears that the new development will cause the crime rate in the Lincoln Park area to spike.

"Drugs, prostitution busts, and burglaries are more common in Enos Park," says Bretscher. "We don't want those problems coming over to our neighborhood."

Conley says Lincoln Park residents were inspired by recent community efforts to improve areas such as Enos Park and the Washington Park playground.

Revitalizing Lincoln Park is a top priority of the association's, she says.

Springfield Park District board president Leslie Sgro and Ward 5 Ald. Joe Bartolomucci vowed at last week's meeting to partner with the association.

"We want to make sure we keep an eye on what's happening in the neighborhood," says Conley. "People want to be involved; that's what's so heartening."

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