Panel solicits extended-stay crackdown

LAWRENCEVILLE - A Gwinnett grand jury said extended-stay hotels that allow criminal activity to occur should be sanctioned or closed in a prepared statement issued this week.

The March 2006 presentments, which include sentiments and observations about the citizen panel's six-month stint of grand jury duty, said the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and Norcross City Council should review their business license ordinances and create sanctions in an effort to curb prostitution and drug activity in extended-stay hotels.

In particular, the grand jurors who adjourned this week turned a critical eye on the Knight's Inn at 5122 Brook Hollow Parkway.

In April, District Attorney Danny Porter sent a letter to the motel's owner, Mahesh Nichani, informing him that if criminal activity continued, the hotel would be deemed a "public nuisance" and closed down. The motel was required to make several improvements such as updating the camera security system and adding or repairing fencing to restrict access and eliminate loitering.

Porter said Thursday that those improvements have been made, but he still needs to review recent arrests and police calls to that location to determine whether they had any effect. Extended-stay hotels have been a sore spot for Porter and local officials because they have proved to be a hotbed for underhanded dealings.

Porter said he has never had to resort to using his powers to shut down a business or private residence, although by law he can do so by declaring a location a public nuisance.

A concentrated group of extended-hotels on Oakbrook Parkway formed an association last year that works closely with Gwinnett County Police Department. The effort has resulted in a significant drop in criminal activity in those hotels, Porter said.

However, other extended-stay hotels still cause problems for police.

"If you were to get a committee of drug dealers together to design their perfect environment, they would come up with extended-stay hotels," Porter said. "The rooms are paid for in cash, there are few requirements for check-in and security safeguards are lacking. If it was up to me there wouldn't be a single extended-stay hotel in Gwinnett County."

In other presentments:

•Grand jurors said their terms should be shortened to three months instead of six and recommended two groups be empaneled simultaneously to decrease the burden on each individual grand jury. Porter said next week Gwinnett will start having two grand juries working simultaneously.