BELL — In an attempt to deal with long-term residency in its existing motels and hotels that may be a haven for drug trafficking and prostitution, the City Council last week directed city staff to study such facilities as a first step toward their possible regulation.
The city is "doing a statistical analysis to confirm suspicions that there's a problem in that area that needs to be addressed" by zoning, Byron Woosley, city administrator, said in an interview.
Most of the hotels and motels in the city are on Atlantic Boulevard and Florence and Gage avenues. The study will update a report done by the city in October, 1984, that found crime and other problems at some of these hotels and motels.
The report found that some units were being used for long-term residency; 61% of the units in the city's 15 hotels and motels have kitchen facilities. Although city zoning now prohibits kitchen facilities in hotels and motels, many had them before the regulations were adopted.
One of the main areas for the new study will be defining the difference between a motel or hotel and an apartment complex, and suggesting limits on the length of stay as well as other regulations. The city's zoning ordinance governing motels and hotels does not state that they can only be used on a short-term basis and that long-term occupancy is not permitted.
Existing Businesses Not Covered
After the 1984 report was issued, the council tightened an ordinance on new hotels and motels but "there are no tools available for regulating existing motels," Woosley said. "That appears to be the problem."
The ordinance, passed in 1984, prohibits kitchen facilities in new hotels and motels, bans hourly rentals and requires daily maid service to make it more difficult to use rooms for prostitution and drug dealing. However, only one motel has been built since then and it received zoning approval prior to the ordinance's approval, and so is exempt.
Hearings will be held by the Planning Commission in about two months once a study by the city staff is complete, Woosley said. Once those hearings are held, the City Council will hold its own hearing and act on any recommendations forwarded by the commission.
The city's study will show if there is a direct relationship between motels and hotels and drugs and prostitution, Woosley said.
The 1984 report found that criminal activity in the 2.8-square-mile city is concentrated around the hotels and motels. An attached police report stated that narcotics sales, disturbances, assaults, prostitution and burglary have been identified as common police problems at several establishments.
6 Problem Motels Cited
The police report listed six motels where these problems were occurring frequently. The others have had few or no crime or other problems listed.
Councilman George Cole said long-term residency at hotels and motels tends to encourage prostitution and drug trafficking because managers are either unaware or don't pay attention to the activities going on in the units.
"The link is that these (motel owners), in their desire to make a dollar, don't care much about what goes on" at their businesses, Cole said.
While studying the problem in 1984, the council in May passed a moratorium on the construction or enlargement of hotels and motels. It expired in January, 1985.
"I'm very much interested in this. We need to continue what we started," said Councilman Ray Johnson, referring to the zoning changes that would control establishments built since 1984.
Motels, or Apartments?
In an interview last week, Johnson said that, by leaving existing hotels and motels out of the 1984 ordinance, the council left much of the problem unsolved.
"Are these motels or are these apartments? If they're apartments, they must have certain amenities. If they're motels, (owners) must run them as motels, not as permanent residences," Johnson said.
Cole said at the meeting that stronger zoning regulations would "give us specific tools . . . to go after motel owners and force them to be responsible for what goes on."
He has said that the establishments were never intended to be used as an alternative to low-cost housing.
"People don't live there because they're great places to live," Cole said earlier this month. He said that, many times, people cannot afford a down payment on an apartment for first and last month's rent, so they live in establishments that allow them to pay daily or weekly rates. "It helps keep them trapped in that situation."
The city wants to give everyone involved, including motel and hotel owners, a chance to present their point of view at the hearings, city officials said.