South Portland denies new licenses for 2 Main Street motels

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SOUTH PORTLAND — After an unusual recommendation by the police chief, City Councilors voted Tuesday not to renew licenses for two Main Street motels.

They cited criminal activity by patrons that has warranted repeated police attention.

Councilors voted 5-2 not to renew a lodging license for The Knights Inn at 634 Main St., owned by Kantilal Patel. They 7-0 not to renew the license for Maine Motel at 606 Main St., owned by Ibrahim Dhamdachhawala.

Councilors Adrian Dowling and Kate Lewis voted against denying the license for The Knights Inn because they preferred imposing a series of conditions.

The businesses’ current licenses expire June 1, after which they can reapply. At a meeting to be scheduled next week, the city must also establish findings of fact that informed the decision.

City Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett said she expects the decision will be challenged. David Lourie, the attorney for the owners of both motels, on Wednesday said his clients are evaluating their next steps.

Fifteen other establishments were recommended for renewal. Each business is reviewed annually by police, the Fire Department, and the health officer.

Police Chief Ed Googins recommended the licenses be denied, or conditions be placed on the operations.

Googins, who has led the department for 24 years, said this is the first time he has recommended such action be taken.

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

Conditions Googins sought to impose included installing video surveillance in public areas of the properties, having motel staff attend police training to identify criminal activity, and more proactive reporting of potentially criminal activity.

The owners of the motels attended a training session May 15, the chief said, and said they want to work with police.

According to Googins, the installation of cameras had not been completed as of April 28.

Lourie said the conditions were too vague and contended they were being arbitrarily placed on the motels. He further asserted the police response and the recommendation for conditions was retaliatory.

“You can’t impose conditions willy-nilly,” Lourie said, adding there was no evidence to warrant the restriction. He said motel staff are not vicariously responsible for guests’ conduct, and staffers had been cooperative with police when asked to identify people and to provide keys to open doors.

“They cooperated fully and should not be punished,” the attorney said. “They are hard-working immigrant families; you can’t take away their livelihood.”

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

“It should raise suspicion,” Thornton Heights resident Devin Dean said of the report that described six men going into one room every half hour. He added domestic assault and terrorizing also seem to be the bulk of police calls made from the motel.

“On behalf of my family and neighborhood, please, do something,” he said.

Jonathan James, who walks his dog near the motels, said he has called police after witnessing suspicious activity. He said he hoped the motels would comply with the conditions Googins recommended.

Neighbor Victoria Morales said she has been concerned about the establishments for a long time, adding her house has been broken into, and other neighbors have reported people hiding on their property.

“It feels really unsafe,” she said.

Councilor Eben Rose said the owners must be culpable for the activity that occurs at their businesses. He said they should remodel their business plans and reapply for a license if they are willing to work with the city.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106., or at jlaaka@theforeacster.net or on Twitter @JulietteLaaka.

The South Portland City Council on May 15 denied lodging license renewals for two Main Street motels: Knights Inn, top, and The Maine Motel.

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