When hotel and motel owners in Richmond came to the city commission expressing concerns about recently passed ordinance 19-14, or the chronic nuisance property ordinance, the board of commissioners discussed making several amendments.
The original ordinance was designed to impose a civil fine on hotels and motels that are found to be a consistent problem within the community.
In the ordinance, a chronic nuisance property is defined as a "hotel or motel establishment on which three or more nuisance activities exist or have occurred during any 90-day period, or on which 12 or more nuisance activities exist or have occurred during any 12-month period."
Nuisance activities, which constitute a wide range of criminal activities, can be deemed by a police officer or a member of the code enforcement department. Some of those activities include public intoxication, disorderly conduct, assault, drug possession, drug trafficking and overdose.
City Attorney Garrett Fowles said he thought the three proposed amendments were necessary after motel and hotel owners expressed that some instances warranting a violation -- such as resisting arrest -- are out of their control.
"What the amendments that you have in front of you this morning do is really three things," Fowles explained. "First of all they have deleted from the list of possible infractions a couple of things I think quite clearly the hotel and motel managers themselves could not control."
In addition to that, hotel and motel operators expressed a concern asking if an owner or manager themselves call about a crime taking place, if it would have an adverse effect on them.
"Obviously we do not want owners to be fearful of contacting the police when they need our help for fear that they are setting themselves up to be fined later on down the road," he said. "So the second amendment that is in there makes it so that if we are called to the scene by the owner or operator, they are not in violation."
Lastly, the new amended ordinance, to be named ordinance 19-16, will extend the amount of days in which a property owner is notified about their violation from 20 to 45 days, allocating more time for codes enforcement and the police department to do administrative work.
The city attorney said that in meeting with the codes department as well as with the police chief and assistant police chief, they expressed concerns that administratively, they did not know if they could move quickly enough to accommodate a 20-day turnaround.
"There is a lot more administrative work that will be required of those two departments in order to make this ordinance effective that is time consuming," Fowles said.
City Manager Rob Minerich said that in the several meetings that city officials have had with hotel owners and operators, they expressed diligence about trying to have the right guests in their hotels, carrying a lot of liability.
"I think that the operators who are doing what is right, they are doing a good job," he said. "There's no doubt about that, but obviously we have some problem properties. We don't want to cause you anymore problems, we are just trying to solve the problem that we have."
Following Minerich's statement was Commissioner Jason Morgan who told operators of Hampton Inn, Townplace Suites and Super 8 Motel that they were not being targeted with this ordinance, which was originated by Morgan.
"We are targeting hotels that, quite frankly, harbor criminals," Morgan said. "… When people come begging with tears in their eyes, and my job is to solve problems, I am going to solve problems."
At the meeting on Tuesday morning, the hotel operators in attendance said they appreciate the idea behind the ordinance and that bad experiences at any hospitality establishment in the city affects them also.
"As a general manager, I fully support the intent and where we are going with this, especially since as a tourism board member, you want to clean up the whole city so that it welcomes tourism and that sort of thing, I just want to make sure that we don't get caught in the crossfire," Matthew Vaughn, manager of Townplace Suites, said.
Owner of Hampton Inn, Manish Patel, made mention to the commissioners that the hotels help the city with generating revenue from the 3% transient tax on hotels and motels. That tax, according to Lori Murphy-Tatum, the director of Richmond Tourism, generated $450,000 for the city in 2018.
"These bad properties, they hurt us too," Kristina Clarke, who manages Hampton Inn on Eastern Bypass, said. "You get semi-decent people coming off the highway, and everything is sold out, and if we are sold out, they are going to these (places) and never coming back here. That is the first impression that they get, and they will never come back, because that is what they assume Richmond is all about."
Later on, the commissioners discussed with Fowles drafting similar nuisance property ordinances that would pertain to residences and businesses.
The next Richmond City Commission meeting will be Aug. 27, 6 p.m., at Richmond City Hall commission chambers at 239 W. Main St. in Richmond.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.