Not in Our Backyard!
Petition calls for motel to be shut down
(pictured above: The Royal Inn is the focus of residents’ ire.)
An online petition at Change.org is calling for the closure of the Royal Inn. The nearly 500 people who have signed it call the 200 South Broad Street motel a public nuisance.
Brandon Vickers, who lives near the motel in the West Salem neighborhood, started the petition on Tuesday, July 22. He said the 57-room Royal Inn is notorious for being a hub of illegal activity, everything from drug dealing to prostitution. He has posted crime stats at Change.org that he says back-up those claims.
According to the Winston-Salem Police Department, in the last year there have been 149 calls for service on the motel’s block, most attributed to the Royal Inn’s address. Drugs were the most common offense.
Vickers, the former president of West Salem Neighborhood Association, met with the motel’s owners and city and police officials at City Hall last April about his concerns. He said he’s seen little change since that meeting and still feels unsafe walking past the motel when he and his family go to games at the near-by BB&T Ballpark.
“Over the last three months, we’ve seen more prostitution activity,” he said. “We’ve seen a steady increase in both prostitution and drug dealing, and it was really starting to irritate several of my neighbors because they said it reminded them of several years ago; and it’s absolutely unacceptable and we’re not going to have it. This neighborhood is growing; these are growing pains, not symptoms of a neighborhood in decline.”
Vickers said he started the petition the same day that two pressure washers working outside of his home were approached by a prostitute on, what Vickers claims, was her daily walk to Royal Inn. He said she solicited both men for sex and then asked if they wanted to buy marijuana.
“It’s the type of behavior that makes me think these folks have no sense of consequences, that this is an open and tolerated behavior,” said the father of two.
His petition simply states, “Declare the Royal Inn a public nuisance and immediately begin the abatement process.”
It’s been embraced by the West Salem Neighborhood Association, and many former and current residents of the neighborhood, which has more than 1,000 homes, have left comments of praise and support for Vickers. The goal is 500 signatures, but Vickers said he’d like to gather more support than that before presenting the petition to the City Council.
Royal Inn co-owner R.K. Patel said the petition is misguided and he’s the victim. He said he’s taken steps since last April to deter crime – things like requiring driver’s licenses and addresses from guests and banning known trouble-makers from the property and calling the police on them if they do not concur.
He said the motel was put up for sale after last year’s meeting and had a potential buyer who planned to renovate the 35-year-old property and make it part of a franchise. That, Patel said, would have raised rates from the current $35.50 a night. Many critics think the low cost for rooms is one of the reasons the motel attracts trouble makers. Patel said Tuesday that the interested buyer had backed out because of the petition.
He said he can only do so much to control the actions of his guests. Prostitutes aren’t likely to admit what they’re renting a room for, even if motel staff ask, he said. Patel claims police records that show incidents at the motel could be deceptive because police may pull over drivers on Broad Street and use the motel’s address to denote the stop.
“I can only control my property and try to work with the police department and try to work with the homeowners association if they cooperate with me. If they don’t cooperate with me, I don’t have any way of helping them or helping myself,” Patel said.
City Council Member Molly Leight, whose South Ward includes West Salem, said she supports the petition. She was at last year’s meeting, where she said the residents implored motel owners to change their business approach. She said judging from police statistics and the many complaints she’s heard about the motel since then, nothing has changed.
“This is the next step,” she said of the petition.“If the owners had changed their business model, had tried to suppress the criminal element, we wouldn’t be seeing this petition.”
Nuisance abatement for criminal activity on a property is covered by Chapter 19 of the state’s General Statutes and is handled locally by City Attorney Angela Carmon’s office.
She said nuisance abatement depends on the nature of the criminal acts on a property, how often they occur and if the owner has knowledge of those acts. She said her office has pursued several cases of nuisance abatement, though often they end up reaching agreements with property owners to find ways to stop the offenses on without the property being shut down. She said if the City Council advises her office to do so, she’ll look into whether the Royal Inn would meet the legal criteria for nuisance abatement.