Squatters set up camp in historic Galveston landmark

December 29, 2011 3:38:12 PM PST
It once was a great part of Galveston County, but now, residents say it's a detriment to their community. They're talking about eight crumbling military barracks just a stone's throw from the beach.

The property owner says homeless people are constantly breaking into the crumbling buildings, breaking windows and stealing items, including fencing. Nearby property owners say this isn't what they had in mind when they moved in.

When Phil and Jeanna Player purchased their dream home in Galveston three years ago they built a deck to watch the sunset on the water.

Phil said, "We'd like something that would increase the value of the property."

But their view of the barracks that were once part of Fort Crockett is not what they had in mind. The state-protected historic structures have been decaying for more than a decade, since being purchased from the Coast Guard by a private owner. It is now home to vagrants and critters who break in to stay warm.

"Anything probably would look better than that, because it has really become an eyesore," Jeanna said. "I think it is beyond where they can restore it."

That owner, Max Bowen Enterprises, is trying to sell. It sank $600,000 into the barracks to make them into apartments eight years ago, but no one wanted to live there. Now the attorney general is suing the company over the condition of the buildings. But the city says as far as local building codes go, the company is in good standing.

Ron Penn with the Galveston Code Enforcement Division said, "If we see the grass is getting a little bit high, or if maybe a board has been dislodged, we just contact the owner and they're very responsive."

Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski says there needs to be a resolution and is promising expedited permits to help turn this into something more suitable.

"Resort housing, mixed use facilities with some retail involved," Jaworski suggested. "I think the attorney general's lawsuit is probably going to force some resolution of this one way or the other and I hope they work together with the attorney general to reconcile their obligations. The city will help them."

Unfortunately, the property's owner and the Galveston Historical Foundation have differing opinions on what should be done with the buildings.

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