SOUTH PORTLAND — Two low-budget motels on Route 1 will be allowed to stay open under agreements approved Tuesday night that require them to increase security and cooperation with police.

The Knights Inn on Route 1 in South Portland Staff photo by Ben McCanna

The City Council voted 7-0 to overturn recent decisions not to renew the operating licenses of the Maine Motel and the Knights Inn – denials that were based on several incidents of alleged prostitution or drug-related activity in the last year.

The motels’ owners filed a lawsuit last month to block the city from shutting down the family-owned-and-operated businesses. A judge called for a compromise that would allow the businesses to remain open.

The council subsequently agreed to reconsider the license denials, and lawyers for the city and the motels worked out conditions for approval during a judicial settlement conference last week.

“I’m glad we’ve come to a compromise,” Councilor Claude Morgan said, noting that the council never wanted to put the motels out of business. “We want them to improve their business.”

David Lourie, a Cape Elizabeth attorney representing the Main Street motels, still believes that the owners have been treated unfairly and that the city’s licensing ordinances are unconstitutional.

“The owners acquiesced,” Lourie said outside the council meeting. “They’ve been ruined, both financially and by reputation. At this point, they simply want to move on with their lives.”

The council is expected to review licensing regulations to ensure that the conditions imposed on the Maine Motel and the Knights Inn apply to all hotels and motels in the city.

“I don’t want to single out two businesses,” Councilor Adrian Dowling said.

CONDITIONS FOR APPROVAL

Under the agreements, the motels will be granted lodging establishment licenses because they have agreed to meet the following conditions:

Require all managers and front desk employees to participate annually in the police department’s hotel/motel training program;

Install and/or maintain video recording equipment and preserve all video recordings for at least one week;

Make reasonable efforts to determine the identity of each guest in whose name a room is registered;

Report suspected illegal activities to police as soon as possible and cooperate with police investigations into illegal activities.

The agreements also stipulate that the motel operators will not be penalized in future licensing decisions for reporting illegal activity if the operators comply with the conditions.

The Knights Inn, at 634 Main St., is owned by Kantilal Patel, and the Maine Motel, at 606 Main St., is owned by Ibrahim Dhamdachhawala.

ALLEGED ILLEGAL ACTIVITY

The Maine Motel on Route 1 in South Portland Staff photo by Ben McCanna

The council voted May 15 not to renew the motels’ licenses on the recommendation of Police Chief Ed Googins.

The council focused on two prostitution incidents at the Knights Inn – one that resulted in an arrest – and three overdoses and a SWAT team drug raid at the Maine Motel. One of the overdoses resulted in a death and four people were arrested in the drug raid.

Googins sought to impose conditions on the motels, asking them to install video surveillance in public areas and undergo police training to identify and report potential criminal activity. The council voted not to renew the motels’ operating licenses when Lourie said the owners indicated they wouldn’t abide by conditions, said Sally Daggett, the city’s attorney.

In the lawsuit, the owners claimed that the council’s action against the motels and the city ordinance on which it was based are discriminatory and unconstitutional.

City officials said the repeated calls for police service triggered a city ordinance that allows operating licenses to be denied, suspended or revoked for repeats of incidents such as breaches of the peace, disorderly conduct and other violations of law by anyone on the premises.

The lawsuit had asked the court to overturn the council’s action “so as not to hold the owners responsible for unproven conduct or events merely appearing in police incident reports, of which (the owners) have no prior knowledge and have no control.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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