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November 22, 2013

In final vote, city limits motel stays

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

The City Commission voted unanimously Nov. 18 to limit the length of time that people are permitted to stay in motels within the city limits.

When the new ordinance goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015, it will limit stays at motels to 30 days, and no more than 60 days in a 180-day period.

Additionally, if motel owners want to keep their long-term tenants, owners may upgrade their buildings from Residential 1, the current zoning for motels, to Residential 2, the zoning for apartments, dormitories and permanent lodging houses.

City Attorney David Gillam said motel owners can upgrade portions of the buildings to Residential 2 and don’t necessarily have to upgrade their entire structure.

“It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition,” Gillam said.

Mayor Jim Ellison said the changes to the hotel-motel ordinance would improve the living situation for those living long-term in motels. He said that allowing people to stay more than 30 days in conditions not proper for such stays made the city “culpable” if something happened.

“It’s not a case of us trying to get long-term people out, because we do accept the fact that this is home for a lot of people,” Ellison said. “What we’re trying to do is make it a safer environment for them to stay there. That’s what our goal is.”

Resident Pat Franz during the public discussion portion of the meeting called the ordinance “draconian” and an attempt to close down all motels in the city.

“If it’s safe enough to stay in 30 days, it’s safe enough to stay in 10 years,” Franz said.

The Rev. Kenneth Kaibel, from Starr Presbyterian Church, said the ordinance likely would add to the number of people to whom his and other city churches provide shelter, food and health care.

“I’m afraid that this change will increase that number drastically,” Kaibel said to the commission.

Sean Nile, the property manager for Hotel Madrid, said forcing motels to upgrade could have two possible adverse side effects.

“It’s going to force the rates up, because, in a business sense, you obviously have to make up that cost, so that’s going to kick out the current people,” Nile said. “Or if people want that R1 and stick with the 30-day ordinance, you are bringing in transients.”

An amendment passed with the ordinance requires motel owners to post the ordinance language within the motel for tenants to see by July 1.

While he did vote for the ordinance and the amendment, Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said he wanted to see more than just the ordinance be posted.

“Just the ordinance is abstract,” DuBuc said.

He said there should be clear communication with tenants that there is a hard deadline for when the changes go into effect.

Mayor Pro Tem David Poulton was against providing additional details and said posting the ordinance and tenant communication with the manager of the motels will be enough for residents to know what is going on.

“We’re getting into details more than we should,” Poulton said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at rguttersohn@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5006.