Norcross leaders took what Mayor Bucky Johnson described in golf terms as a sort of do over on Monday and repealed a controversial limit on how long someone can stay in a hotel or extended stay motel inside the city limits.
Much of the sweeping hotel-motel ordinance approved by the City Council last month will stay in place. The council’s decision this week only struck four subsections that put into place 15 consecutive day limits on hotel stays and 30 consecutive day limits on extended stay rentals.
“Whenever we do a new ordinance, we don’t just pluck it out of the air and make it up,” Johnson said during the meeting. “We go and look at other cities where these kinds of ordinances are taking place and we try to find the best practices and so forth.
“Occasionally, we need a mulligan and today is kind of a mulligan in terms of the ordinance and trying to make an adjustment to it.”
The length of stay limit had drawn criticism and concern from a collection of residents, homeless advocates and organizations that work with Gwinnett County’s homeless population. That prompted city leaders to quickly take a second look at the ordinance.
“There were three really tough issues,” said Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Craig Newton who was involved in efforts to review the ordinance. “It was onerous in some cases and unenforceable in others, and very litigious so we tried to minimize that. We looked at a certain portion of this ordinance to fix it and I think we’ve come up with a solution.”
One of the leading voices against the length of stay provision, Kathleen Allen, expressed pleasure at the fact that the council revisited the issue after several residents got up at the council meeting last month and urged the governing body to do so.
Allen, who previously said she supported much of the rest of the ordinance, was one of the residents who got up and spoke against the provision. She and other homeless advocates and assistance group leaders around the county previously told the Daily Post they felt the provision would only send the issues to other parts of the county rather than resolving them.
“I’m grateful that they reconsidered it so quickly and didn’t let it get to the point where it could have the negative impact that it could have had if it was left in place,” Allen said on Wednesday.
She supported an idea brought up by Newton at the council meeting to get Gwinnett County leaders to set up a “Continuum of Care” for homeless residents in the county.
Allen explained that the continuum would be an infrastructure to help non-profits in the community with work with Gwinnett’s homeless population while also making the county eligible for additional funding to help homeless residents. She added that it would be set up so that while county leaders would have to authorize it, a nonprofit could run it on their behalf.
Meanwhile, the city council’s decision to repeal part of the ordinance does not mean city leaders are backing away from efforts to reduce crime at hotels and motels in the city though. Newton said an average of 25 percent of the city’s police force end up responding to incidents at the hotels and motels on a daily basis.
The ordinance still includes a ban on hotels charging hourly rates, and hotel owners would still have to take safety precautions, such as installing video cameras, keeping a record of rental agreements, quickly reporting crimes, removing graffiti within 24 hours, maintaining records of who rents a room, keeping someone on duty at the check-in desk at all times and issuing placards to be hung in a patrons car while they stay at the hotel.
Hotel guests would have to provide vehicle identification information to the hotel owners and park their cars “nose in” in parking spaces.
“Our most vulnerable citizens are staying in very precarious situations, and when our government, sometimes in a rush, to enact safety, we acted a little improperly and did what we thought was best for our city,” Councilman Andrew Hixson said.
“I’m glad that we’ve, through activism and through community engagement, done what we need to do to eliminate some of the problems with this ordinance, but we remain resolved to protect these citizens that are in these hotels. We remain resolved to partner with the businesses to make sure that they are the safest places possible.”
Newton said there are some proposals which are being considered after a meeting between residents, business owners, public safety officials and city leaders on the issue.
“It just shows that when the public gets together and business owners get together with our elected officials, we can get a lot done,” Newton said. “We did find common ground in several different areas.”
Newton said one initiative that came out of the discussions about the ordinance is a certification program where hotel and motel owners would go through crime prevention training.
The multi-phase training program, known as the Crime Free Multifamily Housing program, started in Arizona in 1998, Newton explained. He said the first phase of the program focuses on education, while the second phase is geared towards prevention and the third phase is social-based.
“Each hotel and motel will be certified crime free,” he said. “That will be a good selling point and advertising point for these motels, extended stays and hotels here in Norcross if we can involve, if we train, if we educate these hotel and motel owners and help them become partners with us in reducing crime.”