AUSTIN, Texas - About four people were removed Tuesday from the old Candlewood Suites in northwest Austin.
The building along Pecan Park Blvd., which has been vacant since the city bought it last year for $9 million, was eventually cleared by a work crew and law enforcement officers. The sweep is a response to people who were recently caught on camera allegedly trespassing on the property.
"I would say at least once a day. Lately we see them probably in the mornings," said Mike Grecco.
Mike Grecco works in a hotel next to Candlewood. He showed the images he recorded of the people he has seen.
Grecco says through a broken wood fence in the back of the property is how most get on site. They move about on bikes, go in and out of a side door, and climb over the fence to slip away. They allegedly have taken bed linens, metal plumbing pipes and even TVs.
"I saw three, but we also know there was a truck over there with a whole truck bed for them," said Grecco.
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On the night of May 5, Austin firefighters from the Lake Creek Pkwy station were sent to the Candlewood. The incident report noted a fire alarm was triggered by a candle found in a restroom. The firefighters also indicated the people living inside at the time apparently ran out as they came in. They left a large TV still on.
The property is in the Williamson County part of Austin. Tuesday morning during the commissioners court meeting, County Judge Bill Gravell had stern words for Austin’s leaders.
"It is just beyond comprehension to me that the city of Austin would buy a homeless hotel, say they're retrofitting it, but yet do nothing with it and then allow homeless people to break into it and use it," said Gravell.
Gravell and those who oppose converting the hotel into a homeless shelter believe it is not in the appropriate location.
"I'm disappointed in Mayor Steve Adler. I'm disappointed in the city council and I'm disappointed in the city manager. They have failed to lead and this is the result of their laziness and their stupidity," said Gravell.
County Commissioner Cynthia Long, who represents the area where the Candlewood is located, has in the past urged Austin officials to let her help find a better site and develop a better plan. Long, like Gravell, had strong words for Austin.
"This has nothing to do with Austin's solutions or lack thereof, for housing homeless individuals. This is all about their utter disregard for their citizens," said Long.
The city council member who represents Northwest Austin is Mackenzie Kelly. She has been a strong supporter of the residents who oppose the shelter plan. Kelly was among the city officials to be contacted Monday night about the trespassing.
"I'm frustrated. This is not the way things were supposed to happen," said Kelly.
Kelly said she contacted the city's homeless strategy office after hearing about the break-ins.
"We're looking into why security is not present there, because we did have a security contract. My understanding is that security should be present on site. That is a failure and that is something that the city needs to be accountable for," said Kelly.
The expectation of a safety crackdown, for some residents, is about as strong as the locks at the Candlewood. Bianca Ramirez who lives in a subdivision behind the Candlewood made it clear, the city broke her trust long before the break-ins.
"It just reinforces my distrust with the city of Austin, because they like I said, they're not accountable. They are wishy-washy. So if you cannot hold true to your word in the beginning, what makes you think I'm going to trust you with everything else," said Ramirez.
City officials who were on site during the Tuesday security sweep declined to say if any of the individuals found inside will be charged with a crime. An inventory of what has been taken from the building was not provided.
FOX 7 was told that the site will get a name change under the new $3.9 million renovation plan. It will be called Pecan Garden.