EVERETT — In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the Everett City Council moved forward with the condemnation of the long-embattled Waits Motel in north Everett.
The measure struck a blow to new manager Emily Simpson’s dream of turning the motel around and reforming its reputation.
The next step is an ordinance to condemn the motel, which will need to go through three meetings before a vote Aug. 2. If the ordinance passes, the property will get an independent appraisal. The city would plan to buy the property, demolish the building and look for a developer to build residential housing there.
Council President Brenda Stonecipher commended Mayor Cassie Franklin for bringing the condemnation resolution forward. She noted that in past years, council members wanting to condemn the motel didn’t have the support of previous mayors or the rest of the council.
“If we’re gonna clean up our community and make sure that it is a safe place for everyone to live in, we have to be willing to be bold and take important actions like this,” Stonecipher said.
She emphasized the city will pay market value for the property, and its owner will receive tax benefits if the condemnation goes through.
At the council meeting, neighbors spoke about years of seeing drug abuse, sex work and garbage at the motel. Last summer, one said, she didn’t feel comfortable letting her children play in her own yard because the issues at the Waits were so bad.
Simpson, who took over as manager in March and had plans to buy the property, pleaded with the council to consider the changes the motel has seen in recent months.
“I’ve been through a lot in that motel, so I really understand where everybody’s coming from,” she said. But, she said, “Waits is finally at a turning point where, after purchasing it, I can bring it to the vision that I had for Everett.”
She intended to rebrand the motel once she bought it, changing the name to Rain Haven and making renovations. Rain Haven would be the first Native American-owned motel in Everett, she said.
The motel, located at 1301 Lombard Ave., could also serve as a stop for travel nurses working at the nearby Providence hospital, she noted.
The Waits “has a reputation that precedes itself, like most Everett motels,” Simpson said. “The difference is that I have been cooperative and transparent with the city and state departments that have shown concern and made themselves available to me.”
Waits’ current owner, Medhat Said, argued the motel has become “much, much, much better.”
The motel has undergone a significant transformation under Simpson’s leadership. The number of 911 calls from the property has dropped significantly, from 147 all of last year to 47 in the first half of this year, according to police data. More than half of this year’s calls came before March.
That decrease can be attributed to Simpson’s efforts to clear up the pervasive issues with crime at the motel.
Bringing in private security and other measures deterred drug activity. Simpson started enforcing a policy barring motel guests from having visitors at night.
Kate McFarlane, a neighbor, has said the cars filling the motel’s parking lot and the sounds of yelling she once heard from across the street have disappeared.
But some neighbors say assurances that the Waits has changed aren’t enough.
“I don’t want to risk my future on a plan based on only one or two people with no current ownership of the property,” Holly James, chair of the Northwest Neighborhood Association, said at the meeting.
Multiple speakers and council members said there have been lulls in illegal activity at the motel in the past, but that it later started back up again.
Nevertheless, several council members praised Simpson and wished her future success.
On Thursday, the Waits Motel was quiet, as Simpson spoke with residents outside.
“I don’t know what proof there is that demolishing and rebuilding housing solves the real crises in Everett,” she said.
Instead of condemning the property and redeveloping it, she suggested the city use those funds to hire more social workers. If the decision to condemn is about bettering the community, she said, it should take the motel’s long-term residents into account.
Condemning the motel, Simpson said, is “condemning all these people who finally have a safe environment back to the dirty old motels and they have to start all over again.”
Long-term residents include Michael Jurkiewicz, who has been living at the motel for more than 10 years. He was disappointed at the timing of the condemnation, he said Thursday.
It’s “something that should have been brought up years ago” when the motel’s problems were bad, he said.
“Now that it’s good they bring it up,” he said.
Another resident, Joe Latshaw, has been living at the motel with his partner for four years now.
The condemnation is “turning into a nightmare for us,” Latshaw said. “If they say you gotta get out, we don’t have anywhere to go.”