Photo by Rasy Ran

The property that once housed Hearthwood condominiums is an epic eyesore along Abrams approaching Richland College. It’s a visible reminder of a fatal fire. And residents of the Chimney Hill enclave that flanks it say it attracts trespassers, who have cut holes in the surrounding security fence and taken up residence in the crumbling, burned-out structures that remain.

“At least it’s not winter, because that is when they light fires to stay warm,” noted one attendee at a neighborhood association meeting Monday (held to discuss multiple issues, but I’m here about Hearthwood, for now). The 9-acre Hearthwood complex, just feet from a row of Chimney Hill town homes, went up in flames in 2013, so one can understand his anxiety.

Matters are made more frustrating by the fact that late last year, the same group of neighbors heard exciting promises from a representative of the property’s new owners, GVN Construction; soon, within months, the ruins would be razed and redevelopment would commence.

Spokesperson Linda Ghaffari with Affinity Strategic Partners, which represents GVN, said at the time that the property had passed inspection by both an independent company approved by the State of Texas as well as the Department of Health and Human Resources and was primed for phase one, which would include cleanup and demolition of existing structures.

She acknowledged neighborhood concerns about folks camping in the charred-out units, and she said that by April 2017, there would be nowhere for them to stay — that “the land will be flat as a pancake.” The following phases were to include vertical construction of some 750 luxury apartments in a high rise building. The development, if it comes to fruition, would play a major role in the transformation of the Abrams-I-635, Forest-Audelia and Forest-Greenville areas, perpetually plagued by panhandling, homeless camps, code violations and crime, to name a few. And it shows signs of significant change.

The new owners made it as far as acquiring a demolition permit for the defunct condos, city attorney Kristen Kramer told Chimney Hill residents last night. But, as everyone in the neighborhood can see, there has been little progress on the property since.

In fact, neighboring residents say they felt safer prior to its 2016 sale, because when the property was in bankruptcy, certain security measures were required by law. “Now the security has gone by the wayside,” says homeowner Chuck Stegman who organized the meeting.

Kramer told meeting attendees Hearthwood landowners and developers need an opportunity to work out a legal matter that has stalled the project. Spokesperson Linda Ghaffari confirms that her client is tied up in civil court but that they are eager to move forward. Ghaffari is traveling and our connection was bad, so we agreed to chat again soon, once she can give us more specific details.