Norwalk city council rejects motel's expansion plans

NORWALK - A 61-room Norwalk motel had its expansion plans blocked by the Norwalk city council on Tuesday after city officials expressed concern over the motel's checkered history with law enforcement.The Anchor Inn at 11632 Imperial Hwy. had sought permission to reconfigure 2-bedroom suites and existing storage space to make room for eight additional units. The plans were originally approved by the Planning Commission last November but council members intervened and took up the issue, citing public safety concerns. According to Sheriff's Department statistics, deputies respond to the hotel an average of five times per month. Most of the calls involve drugs, fights and disturbances. Council members considered approving the expansion with a list of conditions, including that the motel employ a uniformed security guard at night, maintain a 24-hour registration desk and install a video surveillance system that could be accessed by Norwalk Sheriff's Station deputies. Motel owner Jenn Liao, however, hedged at the requests and countered that the city should finance the security upgrades on a one-year trial basis. Council members said they were also bothered by the growing number of people who live in the motel, which was not the intent when the Anchor Inn was built in 1963. Over the years, the motel's clientele shifted from tourists and business people to families in need of immediate, short-term housing. The motel charges a weekly rate of $450, not including taxes. "With a monthly rate of approximately $1,800 for a 450-square foot, one room unit, the cost actually exceeds estimated apartment rental costs for a similarly sized unit of approximately $1,028 per month," community development director Kurt Anderson wrote in a staff report. "Thus, motel guests are usually motivated to find a less expensive, longer term rental, and the owner reports that guests usually stay for 3-4 months." Motels are popular with people with bad credit or who cannot afford a security deposit, officials said. But the "transient nature of the guests, combined with the concentration of persons having recently suffered from foreclosure or other serious financial setbacks, (result) in a more distressed environment." Councilman Leonard Shryock said he didn't see how the motel's expansion "would benefit the city." "Why are we adding units when already there is high crime there?" he said. City officials also noted that of 47 emergency calls from the Anchor Inn last year, only one came from Liao, the property owner. "That worries me if he's supposed to be the one patrolling the grounds," said public safety director Carlos Ramos. Five former tenants of the Anchor Inn testified at Tuesday's City Council meeting in favor of the motel, including a single mother who works across the street at WalMart. She said she felt safe on the premises. When the planning commission approved the expansion plans in November, they did so with a stipulation that guests could stay no longer than 30 days. There is currently no city ordinance that restricts the length of hotel stays. The city council voted 4-0 to reject the expansion but left the door open for Liao to return with a revised project with fewer room additions. They also waived a re-filing fee should Liao choose to amend his plans.

********** Published: January 17, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 40