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Ferndale Council Members’ Minds Unchanged After Motorama Appeal

GallowayCollensTOPsunsetREVISEDFerndale Council Members’ Schrock2015_ad_twocitiesMinds Unchanged After Motorama Appeal

(Crystal A. Proxmire, March 1, 2016)

Ferndale, MI – Ferndale City Council upheld their prior decision not to renew the operating license of Motorama Motel at an appeal hearing Tuesday evening. The decision, originally made on Feb. 8, was based on a recommendation from the Police Chief based on crime reports, building code violations, and fire code violations.

Neighborhood residents sounded off against the motel during the time for public comment. But there were also long-term residents of the motel who spoke, saying they would have nowhere to go if the motel closed.

When the time came for Council members to vote, Mayor Dave Coulter responded to the dinos02sidelogo3current residents, stating “I was moved by the people who came up and spoke. I view the long term residents as victims of the motel as well… I’d like you to stay at a place that values your safety.”

Council Member Raylon Leaks-May said directly “It disheartens me this even had to occur… You deserve better and responsibility needs to be taken.”

Testimony by city employees, backed up by a stack of over 250 photographs, set the scene for the decision to continue denial of the license.

From behind a barrier to protect his identity, an undercover officer shared some of the experiences he and fellow officers had encountered at the Motrama Motel in the past three years. These included arrests for narcotics packaging and distributing, and assaults. They also responded to drug overdoses. In room 213 a man was found dead in the bathroom with packaging consistent with heroin on Dec. 3, 2014. The officer also talked about visits two days in a row to the same room in Feb. 2015 because of a guest overdosing.royal_services

But it was an April 20, 2015 call that made folks start to look at the Motorama more seriously. On that day, a man who had bought what he thought was heroin from people who had been operating out of 8 Wood and Motorama died on the front lawn of a resident on Field Street.

After three years’ worth of reports were compiled, the enormity of the crime problem became clear. “I felt somewhat embarrassed by not having my finger on the pulse,” said Police Chief Timothy Collins. “I knew of them as they were happening… but from the administrative perspective we hadn’t looked at the big picture.”

He explained that when they are called, it is not just a fifteen minute visit and it’s over. “I think sometimes what gets lost is the number of man-hours that gets put in,” Chief Collins said. “We’d be calling in detectives. We’d have to coordinate with the medical examiners and Pledge_side_blueother agencies… There’s a lot of our time and effort that has to go into that.”

Mayor Coulter added that every hour officers at the Motorama is an hour away from protecting the rest of the city.

Beyond the issue of crime, safety of the building is also a concern. While the owner, Phil Patel, testified that he made repairs whenever citations were issued, council members noted that the business should be taken care of even when citations are not issued.

What struck Mayor Coulter was “that every room has a violation,” he said. “You’re not staying on top of issues.”

Fire Marshal Brian Batten and Building Official Mark Howell both testified about the building’s condition. Most of the rooms lacked smoke detectors and there were numerous safety issues such as improper storage of gasoline, improper holes in walls, previous fire Judy_Palmer30yearsdamage that had not been addressed, improper plumbing and electrical wiring, residents using cooking devices in unsafe manners, and evidence that smoking was happening in rooms. Howell described how someone had poured a layer of cement on the second floor balcony without getting a permit, and possibly without consideration for the weight load of the building to support it. Storage is also an issue, with an old upstairs office being used to store furniture that is heavy and a potential fire hazard.

Patel’s attorney Tom Wolcott argued that the city was being judgmental of the location and the nature of that kind of business in that location. “With the good come a few bad types,” Wolcott said. “Isn’t having the criminal element all in one place better so you know where they are and can deal with it?”

He noted that in spite of the police activity on the property, Patel himself had not been charged with any crimes personally

Patel testified that he lives at the motel while his wife and three children live in Rochester. He blumz01purchased the Motorama in 2003, spending $1.7 million to buy it and make initial repairs, and within the past couple years he did roof repairs at a cost of $50,000. He stated that he still owed $1 million on the property and would stop making payments if the business closed.

There are about 60 rooms in the motel and over half are extended stay. Ferndale’s code of ordinances has regulations for motels, but does not set a limit on how long visits must be. The building requirements for apartment buildings are much more stringent than requirements for motels, which are designed for short term visits.

Attorney Wolcott said that if the Motorama closed there would be “more blight, more crime, squatters, the surveillance system is gone, a help to the Ferndale Police is gone,” he said. “This puts people out on the street, creates more blight not less, and bankrupts a family.”

Councilperson Dan Martin stated “this is necessary…. People have committed crimes or had overdoses and are there the next day… I do think it goes back to the management of the Chazzano03property.”

Mayor Pro Tem Melanie Piana called the management “negligent,” and said “I think they [the motel residents] deserve better than the conditions they are living in.” She asked that the City Attorney make clear as plans get developed that council intends to work with local agencies to help the residents find new, appropriate, housing and other assistance they may need.

Mayor Coulter responded to the argument that Council was unhappy with the location and not with the management. “Listening to the criminal activities happening there, that does not sound like Ferndale,” he said. “I’m not willing to give up on any square foot of this city, no matter where it is.”

Council voted unanimously to affirm their previous decision denying the license. Patel could appeal to District Court. City Attorney Dan Christ and staff will come up with a timeline and a UrbaneAd_01plan to communicate with residents and connect them with local agencies to help with housing needs.

For more details check out previous stories:

http://oaklandcounty115.com/2016/02/18/recent-arrest-and-insight-into-story-affirm-motorama-concerns/

http://oaklandcounty115.com/2016/02/09/ferndale-denies-motorama-motel-business-license-renewal/

http://oaklandcounty115.com/2016/02/04/ferndale-council-to-vote-monday-on-motorama-motels-license/

To read the police report summaries, go to:

http://oaklandcounty115.com/2015/12/19/crime-at-the-motorama-part-three/

http://oaklandcounty115.com/2015/12/14/crime-at-the-motorama-part-two/

http://oaklandcounty115.com/2015/11/29/crime-at-the-motorama-motel-part-one/.

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