As the Town of Colonie considers a new law to regulate expansion and construction of hotels and motels along Central Avenue, residents seem more concerned with the ones that are currently standing.
The busy Route 5 corridor is home to 22 hotels and motels in a less than seven-mile strip, and the town plans to implement a new policy that would force developers to secure a special use permit if they want to expand or build. Town Attorney Mike Magguilli said this would be a burdensome process, and the hope is for commercial and retail to step in instead.
The town enacted a moratorium three years ago to prohibit any new development or renovations of motels and hotels, and it is now looking to extend it until August in order to consider the local law.
A Thursday, July 11, public hearing on the law was well attended by residents near Route 5, but rather than comment on the law, most expressed problems about the buildings, the owners and the people that stay there already.
Many residents said the motels are still filled with sex offenders, although there are fewer since the town approved of a sex offender points system in 2009 that regulated the amount of sex offenders staying at each establishment. Others said visitors tend to live at the motels, partying loudly until the late hours.
“They’re not creating a safe living environment for anybody around there,” said resident John McCauley. “(They need to) stop partying, stop living off the people’s taxes and go find a place to live.”
Albany County Legislator Christine Benedict, who lives on Reber Street, called the proposed law “simply smoke and mirrors,” arguing that the motel owners are “slum lords.” She said there have been more than 600 EMS and police emergency phone calls to the Central Avenue strip in the last 14 months.
Benedict said the town law defines motels as “transient” places, yet many of the people staying in the motels use them as a permanent residence where they’re registered to vote and where school busses pick up children.
“If these motels are truly to continue to operate under the guise of a motel, they must comply with the definition,” Benedict said.
Benedict said the town has not made any effort to enforce the law.
Town Supervisor Paula Mahan disagreed, saying the town put the moratorium in place and decreased the number of sex offenders staying in the motels.
“There is more control over what’s being built with the protection of the residents and to promote good, quality business,” Mahan said.
Magguilli said it is difficult to regulate the town’s transient definition, since a person can just check out and check right back in.
Mahan also pointed the finger at the county, saying sex offenders are being driven to the Route 5 corridor. McCauley expressed the same thoughts in the public hearing.
“I feel the Town of Colonie definitely has been a kind of dumping ground (for sex offenders). I just wish there was a way … (to) make living in that part of Colonie a little more better,” McCauley said.
From other speakers came tales of day-to-day troubles that originate in the hotels and motels. Dawn Morrison, who works at the Church of St. Clare on Central Avenue, said they recently added in a security system because the sex offenders and parolees they see every day can often be aggressive and demanding.
“They come for bus tokens, they come for gift certificates, they come for food. They want help with rent. We keep telling them we’re not an agency,” Morrison said. “They openly tell us they were just released from prison.”
Resident Craig Thomas, of Brent Street, said he’s still concerned about letting his 19-year-old daughter walk around the area where they live and to work.
“We can’t let her walk down the street to where she works. It just isn’t safe, even for somebody older,” Thomas said.
Debra Valet, of Reber Street, expressed concerned about the dirty conditions of many of the nearby establishments, saying there is trash everywhere. Valet, who grew up on Reber Street, recalled how the hotels were once nice when they were first built.
“I remember having family out of town stay there, they thought it was beautiful,” Valet said. “(Now) it’s attracting the unwantables, unfortunately.”
Magguilli said the building departments and police do frequent checks and that motel owners typically do the bare minimum to meet standard code.
“We can’t simply prohibit motels and hotels in the area. We can’t simply say, ‘You can’t build.’ We also can’t tell these people to get out of business,” Magguilli said.
Only one motel owner spoke before the board, and he supported the new law. Robert Barrera’s family owns Best Value Inn on Central Avenue. He said his father bought the motel in 1962 and they do not take in sex offenders.
“I think there’s more that needs to be done, but in the realm of what you can do, I think it’s good,” Barrera said.
Barrera said he was the reason the moratorium was put in place, when his family decided to buy land and build another hotel.
“The public is speaking and they don’t want more of this. What you’re doing is taking the legal steps that you can take,” Barrera said. “I think you need to listen to what everyone’s saying here.”
The law will now be sent to the Planning Board for review.