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Vacant home near school causes stir in Kingwood community

July 28, 2017 GMT

Single-family homes and freshly mowed lawns line the street leading up to Woodland Hills Elementary School at the corner of Little Cedar Drive and Plum Valley Drive in Kingwood.

But with its boarded windows and torn-out fence posts, the property at 2190 Little Cedar Dr. seems out of place among its neighbors in the North Woodland Hills community. It sits next to the elementary school and neighbors said it’s been vacant since 2011. It’s unclear how the house became vacant, but the Harris County Appraisal District lists the property owner as an estate.

“Every now and then we’ll see people go over there for no reason,” said Alex Overton, resident of Little Cedar Drive. “There’s this lady who actually weirded me out the other day. She was riding her bike crazily in the street, all over, disregarding cars completely. Then, she went into the driveway and disappeared into that house for a while.”

Mike McKinzie has lived across the street from the vacant house for years.

He said the house’s interior has been defecated in, vandalized and covered in graffiti.

“You wouldn’t believe the filth written on the walls,” McKinzie said. “They’ve stolen the air conditioner; they’ve stolen most of the light fixtures. It’s two stories and the stairway up to the second floor is not safe. The rail has been pulled off and it’s laying on the living room floor. There’s broken glass everywhere. They’ve broken every window. The mirror over the bar is smashed.”

Like Overton, McKinzie has witnessed suspicious visitors approaching and leaving the house.

“I used to sit out on the patio out here, and I’d see people ride a bicycle up to the front door and stop, the door would open, and they would get back on the bicycle and ride down the street,” McKinzie said.

He recounted an arrest he said was made at the abandoned property a few years ago.

“They were in the front yard on their knees with handcuffs behind them, and we were applauding,” McKinzie said.

For the most part, he said, intruders these days consist mainly of thrill-seeking students acting on dares.

He recalled confronting two middle school students running out of the house. When he questioned one of the students, the boy said he had been dared to retrieve his phone after another student had put it on the second floor of the house.

On another occasion, he encountered a boy who was curious about the house because of a rumor it contained a dead body.

“The kids get in there because it’s the ‘local haunted house,’” McKinzie said.

McKinzie fears it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

He said intrusions at the house have not been as frequent lately since the house has been boarded up and secured. However, McKinzie said, he has made past attempts to secure the property by repairing the fence himself, only to return and find a different section of the fence had been torn down.

The Houston Police Department reported there were no calls for service at the property within the past six months. However, the HPD Kingwood division is aware of and monitoring the situation.

“That house has been vacant for some time, so we have officers that check on that house regularly,” said Sgt. David Giannavola with the HPD Kingwood division.

He said the house is secure at this point and the police department is doing what it can to help the situation.

The city of Houston Department of Neighborhoods is the entity working to bring the property into compliance.

″(Tuesday, July 25,) the Department of Neighborhoods dangerous building inspections team inspected the property,” stated an email from Evangelina Vigil, public information officer for the department of neighborhoods. “The property was found to be non-compliant and has been referred to our Legal Department for review and processing for a dangerous building hearing.”

Further details on the possible hearing are pending.

The vacant house’s vicinity to Woodland Hills Elementary School has put the issue on the radar of Humble Independent School District.

An email from the district’s communication office stated, “Humble ISD takes the safety of all our students very seriously. We have been monitoring the situation regarding the vacant house located in North Woodland Hills in Kingwood. Humble ISD will have a presence at any hearing regarding this issue.”

While one side of the abandoned property borders the elementary school, the other side is adjacent to a residence currently involved in a lawsuit with the North Woodland Hills Village Community Association. The community association filed the lawsuit against the defendant, Claylon J. Cooper Jr., for refusal to pay community association fees.

A representative of Sterling, Association Services, the management company for North Woodland Hills, declined to comment on issues regarding the property. The community association’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.

John E. Patton III, Cooper’s attorney, said the association is not upholding a contractual obligation to ensure homes are kept up to a standard of care, which he said excuses his client from paying association fees.

He described the abandoned property as a place where vagrants go to party, drink, take drugs and vandalize. Its presence, he said, has a direct, negative impact on his client.

Patton said his client has found drug paraphernalia, including syringes, dropped on their property; has had feces and urine around the property; and has vermin migrating to the property because of infestations in the abandoned house. He also said there have been instances of trespassers running from the vacant property through his client’s yard.

“They’ve tried to lease their home and they can’t because of this property,” Patton said.

He said selling the home is also not a viable option.

“I’m sure they could, but it would be detrimental,” Patton said. “It would not achieve full value. That’s the issue. … But they also don’t want to have their three small children next to this.”

In the house across the street, McKinzie said he’ll continue to keep a watchful eye on the vacant house and hopes the situation is remediated before someone gets injured inside the deteriorating structure.

The department of neighborhoods scheduled a check-back of the property for July 28.

“If the property is found to be non-compliant, our department will schedule the abatement of weeds and securing of the building,” Vigil said.

Because of the legal process involved in these situations, she said it can sometimes take years to arrive at a permanent solution.