After a vigorous discussion of police activity near the former Presidents' City Motel on Hancock Street, Quincy city councilors approved a special permit for a $1 million renovation of the property.
The motel, which sits next to the site of the new Central Middle School, will be transformed into a Howard Johnson’s hotel with the addition of 22 rooms on a second floor, a reconfigured parking lot, and enclosed hallways to connect the now exposed rooms.
Councilors, in their role as members of a Special Permit Granting Authority, heard feedback on the project from neighbors during a meeting in late September. While one resident came out to support the proposal, another spoke of concerns with how the second-story addition might affect her abutting property on Newton Avenue.
As a result, councilors proposed several amendments to the project during their Monday meeting, including that trees be added between the hotel and neighboring properties, that a residential finish be put on the exterior facing the neighbors, that the fence along Newton Avenue be replaced if altered by the growth of the property.
Additionally, councilors unanimously approved an amendment to require all windows facing the Newton Avenue side of the building to be smoked or glazed, to have any remaining drainage concerns addressed prior to issuance of occupancy permit, and for project coordinators to update the School Committee monthly to ensure work happens in tandem with that of the Central Middle School construction.
Although the amendments on the project passed unanimously, controversy ensued when Councilor Brian Palmucci brought forward police log reports from the past year.
“The call log is concerning. There are a number of overdoses in the past nine months. The call log is three pages; a number of overdoes, reports of a primp, of prostitution, a bank robbery suspect, alcohol poisoning, restraining orders being served, mother with knife, daughter who wants to hang herself, there has been a lot of police activity here,” he said.
Although enclosing the space and the upgrades may work to stem some of the existing problems with clientele, Palmucci remained concerned that the addition of 22 rooms could prove problematic.
To help with the problem, Councilor Kirsten Hughes suggested that the hotel carry more stringent guidelines for customers, including that they use a credit card to purchase their room, or give hotel staff a copy of their ID were they to pay in cash.
“I agree police calls are troubling and the best way to get these down is to affiliate with a chain that has stricter, more-stringent guidelines for their own hotel,” Hughes said.
Councilor Doug Gutro pointed out that the neighbors did not have any complaints of police problems, and that whatever issues existed had been contained.
More importantly, with a new school being build next door, now was the time to try to do something about this crime rate.
“Either we take it or we upgrade it. But leaving it as is isn’t in the interest of anyone,” Gutro said. “It wasn’t presented, but we have someone who owns the hotel who owns other hotels, and some are chain-affiliated. A man knows how to run a hotel at chain standards and he’s been trying to do that in the neighborhood for a long time.”
Councilor Kevin Coughlin pointed to other hotels in the city that had suffered similar problems.
“You either make it better or you make it go away,” Coughlin said.
With the Ritz, the problem went away. With the Carlton House, it was upgraded to a Best Western Adams Inn, making it better
“If we don’t take this step forward, what are we left with but the conditions that we are left with now, and I don’t see that as an improvement,” he said.
Councilors voted 8-to-1 for the permit, with Palmucci voting against.