Editorial: A Public Nuisance?

Editorial: A Public Nuisance?
August 07
00:00 2014

Nuisance abatement is a fancy legal term for an age-old problem. From the Bible to the Hatfields and McCoys, there have been unneighborly neighbors for as long as there have been neighborhoods, or some semblance of them.

When the neighbor is a business that, in essence, welcomes droves of guests on a regular basis, community disputes can become even more implosive.

Such is the case in West Salem, a historic community on the outskirts of downtown. The quaint, family homes with their well-manicured lawns that line the roads of the community are in stark contrast to the heart of Broad Street, an urban swath complete with a series of gas station convenience stores that hawk everything from du-rags to scented oils. The Royal Inn sits front and center here, and residents say those who dwell there are anything but majestic.

Hundreds have signed an online petition asking city leaders to push for the hotel’s closure. Brandon Vickers, a former president of the West Salem Neighborhood Association, started the petition. He says the Inn is a den of moral turpitude and that the prostitutes and drug dealers who have made the motel their base are far from discreet.
R.K. Patel, one of the Inn’s owners, says his hands are essentially tied. He claims the motel’s staff has been extra vigilant in trying to weed out guests who are up to no good, but says hookers, pimps, dealers and the like are not going to divulge their occupations at the check-in desk.

Royal Inn owners met with West Salem residents and city leaders more than a year ago. The owners agreed to enact changes that would ease its number of undesirable guests, but crime statistics show that not much has changed at the Royal Inn.

Patel claimed that a national chain was interested in the Royal Inn and had plans to completely renovate it, but he said the buyer lost interest as a result of Vickers’ petition.
Laying blame with the neighbors is unfair.  Had Mr. Patel had the same level of interest in his motel and the law-abiding people who use it that he had in this prospective buyer, there would be no petition to speak of. From our perspective, the collapse of the deal is the result of money trumping quality and safety.

At $35.50 a night – a rate that is boastfully displayed – the Royal Inn is one of the cheapest hotels in the city. Cheap rates shouldn’t be frowned upon; many law-abiding residents and travelers can’t afford $80 – $150 a night places. Unfortunately, hotels with cheap rates have become the bane of neighborhoods  because owners all but cater to criminals and turn a blind eye as long as rooms are being paid for.

As City Attorney Angela Carmon noted, proving nuisance abatement can be tricky. In recent years, residents have moved to shutter the Nitty Gritty Soul Cafe on South Main Street and the InnKeeper motel on Peters Creek Parkway over similar public nuisance complaints, but the results have been less than what residents wanted.

West Salem residents have a better chance of success. The Royal Inn is a hop, skip and jump from BB&T Ballpark, home of the city’s minor league team, The Dash. The swank Link apartments – where a two bedroom/two bath unit will set you back $1,495 a month – will soon overlook the $52 million ballpark. A block up the street from the  Royal Inn, the 751 West Fourth Street Building is nearing competition. It will house the Winston-Salem Foundation, businesses and retailers.

Our point is that the folks who pull the strings in our city – the people with deep pockets – won’t allow a motel that is visited frequently by the police to remain in that vicinity or to stand in the way of progress.

Rest assured, Mr. Patel, the motel will be bought out – either to be substantially upgraded or razed to make way for more lofts and apartments that only a very few will be able to afford.

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