Town officials in Colonie decided to extend the public hearing regarding new local laws for motels and hotels after nearly two hours of public comments from local business owners and residents.
At the Town Board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 18, board members had been set to vote on the new local laws, but several community members offered comments about the laws that made Town Supervisor Paula Mahan suggest postponing the vote.
Now, anyone with comments or suggestions can contact town officials at Memorial Town Hall until Jan. 22, with the next public hearing at the board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 12. Town attorney Michael Magguilli said his office is open to anyone who has questions or comments.
The new laws target the issues Colonie has been having with hotels and motels being used for a permanent residence. The laws would add a definition of extended stay units and enforce a strict 14-day or less policy in units that are not extended stay.
“What the town is trying to do is be proactive rather than reactive,” Magguilli said. “They are trying to prevent a tragedy.”
He said most current units do not have the infrastructure to be extended stay and were never intended to be an apartment. Also, some motels and hotels are in single-family residential zones, where apartments are not allowed.
“These are not places to raise children,” said Magguilli. Mahan said she has seen children whose addresses are those of motels in the area.
Under the laws, an extended stay unit would need to have a kitchenette that is at least 59 square feet and must contain a fridge, cook top and stove, and a sink. This would prevent electrical safety violations. In some current units, people have hot plates, or other prohibited cooking devices that could potentially overload the electrical system, causing a fire.
A motel or hotel could also have an attached restaurant and be defined as extended stay. In all other cases, someone registered must not stay more than 14 consecutive days in a facility that has 60 units or less.
This would also mean the Albany County Department of Social Services would no longer be able to pay motel or hotel owners for people coming through the department to stay for an extended time at the facilities.
The laws garnered much protest from the public, specifically from local motel and hotel owners, as well as current residents.
Ed Bowman said he was currently living in a motel because he was retired and working part time at Hannaford to support himself. He said the motel was within walking distance of restaurants, clothing stores and supermarkets, as well as on the bus line he takes. The room had heat, air conditioning, a fridge, microwave, phone and smoke detector, and house keeping came by once a week.
Bowman said many people who used motels and hotels for residences are unable to afford heating and electricity bills, as well as the other expenses that come with renting an apartment or owning a home.
Bowman and other residents in similar situations were concerned about where they would end up once these laws were enforced.
Rocky Cocca, owner of Cocca’s Inn, raised the question of what would happen with construction workers and employees who may need a place to stay for several weeks for a job or training. He proposed the town evaluate properties on an individual basis.
“My question for you,” Cocca said to Mahan and Magguilli, “is how did it get this far?”
Other local business owners, like Robert Ferrara of Best Value Inn on Central Ave., was also concerned about losing business.
Hotel owner Peter Harvey said with Global Foundries continuing to grow, employees are being sent out for training. “These people are putting money into the community,” Harvey said. He asked the town to work with business owners to make proper changes rather than enforce rules that came about because of a handful of motels in the area.
Mahan conceded the laws were a work in progress. She said in cases of people coming in for training or temporary work, who only needed temporary residence, would be exempt from these laws as long as they provided proof of permanent residence elsewhere. Employees of the hotels would also be exempt, because someone with the authority to handle any situation would be needed on the property at all times.
“It’s our responsibility to do our best and to make sure people are living in places that are safe,” Mahan said. “(Motels) should not be a permanent residence. … It’s not acceptable. It’s not even legal.”
Mahan continued, “I see the three defining parts of what this law should contain. It would be number one priority, public safety. Number two, residency. What is residency, permanent residency? And number three, compatibility with the surrounding neighborhoods. That means allowing a safe, enjoyable surrounding neighborhood that’s secure.”