A Madison Heights motel, the Scottish Inns, is taking measures to mitigate a spot blight notice from Amherst County officials citing various code violations and a high number of 911 calls on the property, among other concerns.
The county sent a Sept. 3 notice to Satya Narayan, of Narayan Properties, LLC, a Madison Heights company listed in online county records as the owner, informing him the county has made a preliminary determination the property at 4512 South Amherst Highway is spot blighted. Virginia code defines spot blight as “any individual commercial, industrial or residential structure or improvement that endangers the public’s health, safety or welfare because the structure or improvement upon the property is dilapidated, deteriorated or violates minimum health and safety standards.”
The notice, obtained from the county by the New Era-Progress through a Freedom of Information Act request, said recent inspections by the Amherst County Building Official’s office found code violations “in virtually every space in the building, including numerous life/safety violations” that were not resolved within 60 days required by the office. Recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health also showed significant health code violations throughout the property and a recent building official’s inspection found an unlicensed day care being was operated out of a hotel room, according to the notice.
The Amherst County Sheriff’s Office and fire and emergency services have run more than 100 calls on the property in the past year, and “these calls are increasing,” the notice states. Many calls were for people accused of drug and prostitution offenses, according to the notice.
Narayan said when reached by phone Friday the business is moving forward with an abatement plan to remedy the county’s concerns.
“We will get it back to square one,” Narayan said of the property.
He said the county has given time to fix the issues and the business is working to address them. Narayan disputed the county’s finding a day care was on the property when reached for comment.
Recent inspections also revealed many guests were, in effect, living at the property in violation of the county’s zoning ordinance, according to the notice. County Administrator Dean Rodgers said the county’s zoning ordinance places a 30-day limit on overnight stays.
“They have people living there,” Rodgers said in a phone interview.
Amherst County Public Schools also picks up children from the property and transports them to schools, according to Assistant Superintendent William Wells. The Amherst County Department of Social Services has regular calls for services there and fields child protective services cases involving guests and people staying there, “costing the public hundreds of thousands of dollars annually,” the notice states.
“The appearance and constant crime at the property is depressing property values in the neighborhood, decreasing the viability of nearby businesses and the marketability of nearby property, and contributing to the growth of crime and blight in the neighborhood,” the notice letter states.
Rodgers said in an email the spot blight notice is the county’s first under newer, improved zoning regulations and the county is “learning our way through the process.” However, he said it is a common and longstanding practice to provide written notice to owners of code-violating properties and give them 30 days to respond.
He said Narayan has corresponded with county officials, proposed steps to correct the situation and county staff will meet this week to decide next steps.
“If we think we can go forward with his plan, or some version of it, we must determine how to create enforcement mechanisms that assure the owner will stay on track and on schedule with the plan that is ultimately agreed,” Rodgers said in an email to the New Era-Progress.
Nathan Young, the county’s building official, said in a phone interview he was aware of the intent for a new structure at the property but as of Friday had not yet received a building plan or other filings. Rodgers said the motel has failed other inspections in recent years.
“This is not our everyday property maintenance case,” Young said of the spot blight notice issued.
County officials have pushed a business-friendly initiative within the past few years. When asked about the spot blight notice coming in the wake of that push, Rodgers said the county is working to help other nearby businesses.
“They complain,” Rodgers said. “They get vandalism from [the motel’s] tenants.”
Wells said families and children that have to be temporarily housed in hotels or motels are considered homeless under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Act.
“Children that are identified as homeless have two options for school: to continue attending the last school where they were enrolled, or to enroll in the school division where they are residing,” Wells said in an email. “Students living in hotels and motels in Amherst County would be considered homeless, therefore the school division is responsible for their transportation.”
If a family relocates from a motel but continues to be homeless by staying in another such facility in or out of the school division’s locality, Amherst County Public Schools would still be responsible for providing students in those living arrangements with an education as well as transportation to and from school, Wells said.
Hollie Jennings, the Amherst school division’s supervisor for discipline and compliance who also serves as the schools’ homeless liaison, said last year 81 students were identified in Amherst County as homeless. Fifteen of those students were living in a hotel or motel, Jennings said.