South Portland council to reconsider votes to close motels

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SOUTH PORTLAND — In hope of reaching a compromise, the City Council Tuesday night voted to reconsider its decision to deny licenses to two Main Street motels.

City Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett and David Lourie, the attorney representing Knights Inn owner Kantilal Patel and Maine Motel owner Ibrahim Dhamdachhawala, will have a confidential judicial hearing with  Superior Court Justice Roland Cole June 14 to try to reach an agreement that would allow the motels to continue to operate.

Any action by the city will be postponed until an agreement is reached between the parties; councilors plan to meet June 19 to reconsider their previous decision. 

“The council doesn’t want to put them out of business — we want to help them manage it in a healthier way,” Councilor Claude Morgan said after the meeting Wednesday.

Last month, the council voted not to renew the licenses due to reports of criminal activity at the motels, including prostitution and drug use. Police Chief Ed Googins had also recommended several conditions be placed on the license renewals, such as increased staff cooperation with police and installing surveillance cameras in the public areas of the motels.

Although Googins recommended placing the conditions on the businesses, councilors voted 5-2 not to renew a lodging license for Knights Inn at 634 Main St. and 7-0 not to renew the license of the Maine Motel, 606 Main St.

Morgan said the city’s unanimous June 5 vote to reconsider previous decisions was an effort to show good faith and respect to the court. He said the city is acting as a problem-solver in this situation. 

Lourie on Wednesday said his clients are frustrated and stressed because this is their livelihood, adding there was never any legal basis for denying the licenses. He said his clients have installed cameras and have attended trainings with police on how to detect and report criminal activity. 

“The whole thing is ridiculous. The city is dragging it out because they have unlimited taxpayer dollars and their pride. They can’t admit they got it wrong,” Lourie said. 

He said the meeting with Cole is only costing both his clients and the city more money. 

After the council denied the licenses in May, the businesses sued the city and a temporary restraining order was issued by Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren to hold off on any action by the city. Although the licenses expired June 1, the stay means the motels can continue to do business. Lourie said, however, that the negative attention has tarnished his clients’ reputations. 

Lourie said his clients will go along with any conditions imposed, but noted Warren criticized the conditions placed on the motels by police as too broad. 

Warren last week ordered the city not to enforce the City Council’s decision to deny the license renewals until he can review the city’s response to Lourie’s request for emergency injunctive relief. 

At a meeting May 15, city councilors cited repeated reports of criminal activity at the Knights Inn and Maine Motel, including drug activity and sex trafficking, as the basis for the decision.

Googins told councilors two prostitution investigations at the Knights Inn and an alleged overdose death at the Maine Motel violated a city ordinance dictating that disorderly conduct and disturbance of the peace are violations that can result in revocation or non-renewal of a license.

Police reports indicated the alleged incidents of sex trafficking and/or prostitution in June 2017 and January 2018 involved women who were either unable to speak English, or were underage and listed as missing persons.

Lourie said the ordinance is being incorrectly applied because there have not been repeated incidents and his clients are not responsible for the misconduct of their patrons.

Lourie said the decision by the council was intended to curry political favor with residents of the Thornton Heights neighborhood. 

Patel, in the motion seeking injunctive relief filed May 25, said he and his family have operated the Knights Inn for 30 years, and even a temporary closure of the business will cause severe financial distress. He said they had no knowledge of the criminal activity allegedly taking place at the motel. 

Lourie, in the court document, also alleged a South Portland police officer told a desk clerk at the Knights Inn not to rent to people from other countries, not to take cash for payment, and to take pictures of all New York registration cards. 

Lourie said motel employees are not vicariously responsible for their guests’ conduct and were cooperative with police when asked to identify people and to provide access to rooms.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka. 

It will be business as usual at two Main Street motels in South Portland until mediation settles a dispute over license renewals. 

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