Photo by Mark Metzger

Photo by Mark Metzger

After a month of committee meetings, debate and revisions, Metro Council unanimously passed an amendment to the city’s public nuisance ordinance intended to crack down on hotels where there is a history of rampant crime and arrests on their premises.

The focal point of this amendment — sponsored by Councilman Steve Magre, D-10, and approved Thursday night — has been the troubled Economy Inn on Bardstown Road in his district, though the legislation would affect all hotels throughout Louisville.

In the newly amended ordinance, city officials can close a hotel if over a 60-day period there has been at least five arrests on its premises for certain felonies per 100 units — a departure from the old law, in which hotel owners were not liable for what happened in individual rooms.

The owners and attorneys for the Economy Inn previously accused Magre of specifically targeting the motel for closure because of a “private agenda” and threatened to sue the city if it is passed. Economy Inn owner Tony Yaldo, manager Avis Zoma, and their attorney Aubrey Williams attended the council meeting and left after the vote, with Williams telling Insider Louisville that they will hold off on a lawsuit until they see how the ordinance is enforced.

“We have no reason to file a lawsuit… the legislative body has the right, that’s what they do, they pass laws,” said Williams. “But if the laws are violated constitutionally, i.e., if it is determined that my clients are being profiled because of their ethnicity, if they are being prosecuted selectively, then that is the time to file the lawsuit.”

In a previous interview with IL, Yaldo and his public relations consultant strongly suggested that the Economy Inn is being targeted not just because of their Iraqi heritage, but because opponents want to clear their property to ensure the proposed Costco a short distance away is developed.

According to LMPD arrest records, there were 131 arrests at the Economy Inn from the beginning of the year to the end of August, averaging 33 arrests over the 60-day timeframe of the ordinance. America’s Best Value Inn — a short distance away on Kemmons Drive — had 116 arrests during the same period, suggesting both hotels could be subject to the newly amended ordinance if those numbers do not significantly decrease.

Williams added that while much has been made of the crime and police runs to the Economy Inn, he said his clients have initiated many of those calls and are doing everything they can to cooperate with the LMPD. He also objected to Magre citing Major LaVita Chavous — commander of the LMPD’s Sixth Division — as a supporter of the amendment, saying she has commended the motel’s owners for their vigilance against crime.

However, Chavous previously told IL the Economy Inn is “a major concern” and “has become a public nuisance,” though because of the law as it was written at the time, it was not a public nuisance in a legal sense. While saying the motel has allowed police to check guest logs every day for outstanding warrants, she added that “I’m not sure that there’s been a consistent commitment” by the owners to working with police. Former employees of the motel have stepped forward to say management would discourage them from calling the police.

In a statement released after the vote, Magre said that “these changes, if Metro Government follows through with enforcement, will go a long way in giving LMPD and Code Enforcement the tools they need to crack down on many problem hotels and motels that neighborhoods in our city have had to deal with for too long.”

On another front for the Economy Inn, the city’s health department soon will make a determination on whether to suspend the operating license for the hotel due to failed public health and safety inspections. An official from the state Health and Family Services Cabinet submitted a recommendation to Louisville last week for action following a hearing on the motel’s most recent failed inspection, which has not yet been made public, though the city health department is free to make its own determination.