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Motel 6 loses bid for temporary zoning relief

Motel 6 is located at the intersection of Hwy 60 and 77north. Photo by LCGross

In an effort to gain approval for temporary long-term housing to accommodate an agreement with the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the owners of Motel 6 asked for but did not receive the conditional use permit (CUP) they sought, but the details surrounding the request brought several code violations to the attention of city officials.

The hearing for the permit filled municipal chambers with concerned citizens who showed up in force to register complaints at the June 7 Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) meeting.

After more than two hours of presentations and public comment, the commission voted not to approve the temporary permit that would have given the City’s blessing to temporary housing for members of the San Carlos Tribe through a program funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), funded through the U.S. Department of the Treasury, provided more than $46 billion to support housing stability throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and in the ensuing months.

ERAP provided housing assistance for a 15-month period, but concluded in September 2022, so funding for qualified families or individuals will be available until the end of 2023.

The CUP application initially requested the use of 60 of the motel’s 79 rooms be used as long-term temporary housing until Jan. 15, 2024, but due to attrition only 40 rooms were being used for the program at the time of the application, so the permit would only have affected those units.

The last qualifying participant in ERAP is expected to be out of the program by Dec. 29, 2023.

“We looked at the totality of the circumstances—that this needs to terminate and would only be a temporary fix,” said City Zoning Administrator Dana Burkhardt. “I didn’t feel comfortable ending it during the holidays, so we agreed with the applicant that Jan. 15 would be the final day.”

Since the P&Z Commission voted to not approve the CUP, the ending date is moot, but residents could remain throughout their terms in the program.

The CUP would have changed zoning at the motel from Globe’s hotel/motel transient lodging use to temporary residential and would have reduced collection of the transient occupancy tax paid to the City to fund five nonprofit organizations including the Globe-Miami Chamber of Commerce.

Transient lodging is restricted to 29 consecutive days in any 45-day period.

According to the Zoning Department’s staff report, city officials believe the agreement between the San Carlos Tribe and motel owners began in April 2022. An Aug. 26, 2022 Facebook post from Tribal Vice Chairman Tao Etpison thanking Motel 6 owners for their partnership went largely unnoticed. 

“Many of our members have been helped through this arrangement and some have obtained employment at the hotel,” Etpison wrote. “There are currently about 65 rooms occupied by families of one or more. The program funds this type of rent (sic) housing for several months.”

As events unfolded though, it became obvious to city officials that something was amiss on the property.

Throughout the last half of 2022, neighborhoods around E. Ash location at the crossroads of State Highways 60 and 70 and the Globe Police Department noticed an uptick in calls for service, including welfare checks, domestic disturbances, trespassing, to theft, illegal drugs, public intoxication and assault, although not all calls were believed to be related to the long-term residents.

The CUP staff report stated that calls for service at the motel increased from 86 calls in 2021 to 155 calls in 2022. In 2023, up to the date the report was generated, there were a reported 56 calls for service.

But it was not until earlier this year when a fire and a subsequent inspection for a gas line repair brought the situation to the attention of city officials.

The fire was in a pile of garbage being stored onsite and was believed to be started by young residents participating in the ERAP.

On Feb. 22, Globe’s Fire Marshal and Gila County’s Department of Health inspected the property and found a number of code violations and safety concerns, due in part to long-term residents and renovations taking place at the motel.

According to the inspection report, there were “multiple severe life safety violations” on the property, including non-working smoke detectors, heavy storage of trash/combustible materials, various electrical violations and “large amounts of cat and rodent feces noted throughout.”

What caught the attention of Zoning though, was reported “occupant load violations,” with five rooms “habitated with a total of 12 humans plus pets.”

According to Burkhardt, the motel’s owners have been cooperative in addressing the issues and the CUP application was submitted in the interest of adhering to zoning codes and to address health and safety issues.

“In March and April we created the ‘punch lists’ for corrections on a number of violations,” Burhardt said. “Clearly, there was a lack of maintenance for some time, but within a month, they had corrected all violations.”

When the Zoning Department analyzed the permit application, it identified several disadvantages for residential housing in the vicinity. The area is zoned for transient populations and businesses associated with that use.

There were several potential safety issues for residents from a lack of safe crossings to businesses and restaurants on the opposite side of Ash Street to a lack of adequate places for school buses to pick up students attending Globe area schools. Buses have been picking up students at Denny’s parking lot, more than 1/4-mile away.

“When reviewing a change of use from commercial to residential, Staff considers the livability of a site when in a location surrounded with highway commercial uses,” the report states in support of the CUP. “In summary, staff believe the proposed conditions of approval are satisfactory for allowing the current residential use to continue for a period of up to six months.”

But the P&Z Commission did not see it that way.

Although only three letters were submitted by neighbors asking to deny the request, the council chambers were packed with residents opposed to it.

The only speakers in favor of the CUP, were representatives of the Motel 6 ownership group and an attorney representing the San Carlos Tribe.

Motel 6 representative Sarvjit Sarma, said it was a temporary program with 40 rooms currently in use, adding that “four to 10” participants would be leaving each month.

“It’s tapering down,” Sarma said. “We anticipate a lot of these issues dissipating over time.”

He also questioned how the city would enforce a number of the 13 conditions attached to the permit, such as property inspections and whether a fence would be realistic for the remaining six months of the ERAP.

Alex Ritchie, an attorney representing the San Carlos Apache Tribe, read a statement of support from Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler on behalf of “over 17,000 members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.”

Referring to the Tribe’s role in “controlling the spread of COVID-19, in partnership with the City of Globe and Gila County,” Rambler stated that despite a much-improved economy, many in the Tribe lost jobs and homes as a result of the pandemic. He also stated that the ERAP had provided $2.1 million “to help those less fortunate with shelter at Motel 6,” including 100 families, 30 children, and 30 elders.

“With shelter, they were able to attain stability; otherwise, most would have been on the streets in Globe,” the statement read. “Many benefited from the convenience of services available within a two-mile radius of their rooms, which was especially important because many do not own a vehicle. Kids were able to go to school without interruption. Many were able to find work. Others found their own housing, training, healthcare, rehab, and counseling.” The letter added that the Tribe utilized the location in Globe because of a dearth of housing on the Reservation.

“Apache Gold Hotel simply did not have the room or location, while Dream Manor is completely occupied by medical staff for the San Carlos Apache Healthcare Corporation,” it stated, ending with “The Conditional Use Permit for Motel 6 will allow those who are most in need to continue their search for their own housing and jobs.”

Opposition to the permit ranged from neighbors reporting increased trespassers on nearby properties to local homeless advocates questioning the entire process.

“After January 15, if they had their motel room paid for all this time and didn’t save any money they’re right back to where they were,” Tim Gonzales, president of the Homeless Coalition of Cobre Valley said. “What are the social workers doing to prepare them for when that day comes? I do want to help people who are homeless, but at the same time there has to be some accountability on their side.”

Globe Police Chief Dale Walters was visibly agitated as he enumerated the types of criminal activity his department had encountered in the past year. Walters has been Globe’s police chief for the past five years and is vice chair of the board of Gila House, which offers transitional housing for victims of domestic abuse.

According to Walters, the increase in crime was one of the central factors that brought the situation to the city’s attention.

“It wasn’t that we were told it was going to happen; it appeared, in my opinion, in the dead of night,” Walters said. “I think these programs can work. But if we’re not vetting these people to find out what their criminal history is or if they have active warrants for their arrest … it’s not doing them any good and it’s sure not doing this community any good.

“I want these people to get the help they need. I think there needs to be a structure to it, and some openness and dialogue before doing these types of investments,” Walters concluded to applause from the gathering.

Written communications from the public suggested the City was somehow making money off of the program, but beyond the bed and sales taxes collected, there were no additional revenues. Because of the increased services the City must provide and staff time devoted to the P&Z application, it may have cost more than the taxes collected.

“Our number-one goal is to correct the violations,” Burkhardt told GMT in a subsequent interview. We weren’t necessarily focused on waiting for or hitting them with inspection fees and things like that as much as we were considering how quickly this could get done. By no means did the city come out with any profit.”

The P&Z Commission eventually voted on two motions. The first, a motion to deny the CUP, ended in a 2-2 tie. A second motion to approve failed 3-1, giving motel ownership 15 days to appeal to the City Council.

In voting against the motions, Commission Chair Tracy Quick stated that she was concerned about the precedent it might set for the future and that “by the time we quit fussing over this it’s going to be Christmas and it’s going to be over.”

Motel 6 ownership has until June 21 to appeal the decision to City Council. Should there be no appeal, or there is one and it is denied, the City may take action against the motel for violations of the transient housing ordinance.

In order for motel residents to be evicted, the City would have to go through Gila County courts, but given the short timeframe to completion of the program, that scenario is not very likely.

However, city staff will continue to monitor the situation and make decisions based on internal discussions.

“We will start the process… we will take action based on our code and fines are part of that, but there are multiple steps and decision points before we get to fines,” City Manager Paul Jepson said. “The city of Globe strives to take enforcement actions that are effective, reasonable, and prudent. We make decisions based on that standard within the confines of our code.”


About David Abbott

Journalist, writer and editor who has worked for community newspapers for more than 15 years. After four years at Davis-Monthan AFB and a few years living in Tucson, moved to California to find his fortune. He is happy to be back in Arizona, in the mountains he loves.

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