SPD Says No More Room For Problems At “Nuisance” Georgetown Motel

The Airlane in Georgetown is not a typical motel. It doesn’t have a pool, continental breakfast or Wifi. But it does have its own drug dealers, prostitutes, and plenty of violent crime.

Last year, Seattle police arrested 18 people at the motel—located at Flora Avenue S. and E. Marginal Way S—and received 46 911 calls about crimes like robbery, rape, and domestic violence, like the June 2012 incident where a man strangled his pregnant girlfriend in a room.

Seattle Police Department detectives also went undercover at the motel, purchasing drugs from dealers working out of motel rooms. In October, narcotics detectives, working with an informant, bought crack in one motel room and, later in the month, served a warrant on another room and found crack, ecstasy and a handgun.

And those are just a few of the reasons why, just last week, SPD declared the Airlane as a “Chronic Nuisance Property” (PDF) in an effort to get the motel’s owners to address problems at their business, or face fines of up to $25,000 and the possible revocation of their business license.

While the Airlane has long been a draw on SPD’s resources, it’s also been a source of frustration for Georgetown residents as well.

Six years ago, Kelly Welker moved into a home just about 100 yards from the Airlane’s back parking lot. “It didn’t seem that bad when we moved in,” she says. But in the five years since, Welker says things have gotten progressively worse. (Ed. note: I interviewed Welker about problems at the Airlane in 2009)

Welker says she and her neighbors have made countless calls to police to report prostitution and drug dealing in the motel’s back parking lot, formed neighborhood phone chains, and set up a Facebook page to keep each other up to speed about problems at the Airlane.

Unfortunately, problems at the Airlane have persisted, and some of Welker’s neighbors have moved out of the neighborhood. But Welker’s stayed put. “This is where I can afford to live,” she says.

Welker’s patience may finally pay off, as SPD has now issued a list of demands to the motel’s owners: install security cameras in and around the building; secure the building’s doors; hire licensed security guards; kick out trespassers; enforce a zero-tolerance narcotics policy for motel guests; keep better records of guests staying at the motel; and post signs in and around the motel discouraging trespassing, drug activity, and prostitution. If problems at the Airlane continue, SPD could seek to have the motel’s business license revoked.

South Precinct Operations Lt. John Hayes says when it comes to dealing with nuisance properties like the Airlane, SPD has tried to strike a balance between addressing neighbors’ concerns and giving business owners the opportunity to resolve problems at their properties on their own. “We do not take Chronic Nuisance complaints lightly,” Lt. Hayes says. “It’s a serious thing for us, but we want to use Nuisance Property Correction Agreements as a last resort.”

Designating a problem home or business as a chronic nuisance takes a lot of work, and these agreements can only be used in specific circumstances, but Lt. Hayes says neighbors should always contact SPD if they believe they’ve live or work near a problem property. “If you do feel that you do have a nuisance property in your neighborhood, contact your precinct’s Community Police Team, and be ready to articulate why the business or residence is a problem for you and your community.”

“Keep pushing us,” adds South Precinct’s Community Police Team Sergeant Ann Martin. “We can’t do this without neighbors saying ‘this is how we want our community to look.”

SPD has scheduled a meeting later this month with the owners of the Airlane to address the ongoing issues.