The Capri Motor Inn has officially been declared a public nuisance by the Town of Hempstead. The motel will be shut down for one year — the longest the law allows.
“A public nuisance, a public nuisance, a public nuisance,” Councilman Thomas Muscarella said of the motel at the Aug. 6 town board meeting. “That is an immediate and substantial threat to the safety and well-being of the inhabitants and surrounding vicinity.”
The motel, on Hempstead Turnpike in West Hempstead, was closed by the town officials on Aug. 7 for failing a fire marshal inspection that was requested by the town and the police department. Officials immediately put public nuisance notices on the motel’s doors, but this is a label under the Building Department for safety issues, a town spokesperson said.
The Aug. 31 and Sep. 6 hearings were to determine if the motel qualified as a legal public nuisance under Town of Hempstead law.
The board voted unanimously in favor of the motion — but not before arguments from lawyer Jeff Schreiber representing Capri Motor Inn and the manager of the motel, Saul Brooks.
The town law outlines a specific procedure to follow in order to declare a property a public nuisance. Two predicate arrests must take place on the property within a year of each other. The property owners must be notified of said predicate arrests with a copy of the public nuisance law.
At the Aug. 31 hearing, Schreiber noted deficiencies in that process. The first notice of a predicate arrest did not include a copy of the public nuisance law, which he said rendered it invalid. Secondly, the second predicate arrest — in which two women walked from Capri to the gas station across the street to buy what police believe was crack cocaine — technically took place off Capri property.
“You can’t count to two before getting to one,” Schreiber said. “Even the second predicate arrest is defective according to the terms of your own ordinance.”
The law states that the owner of a property being considered a public nuisance must be notified in writing not less than 10 days prior to the scheduled hearing. Schreiber pointed out that the owners of Capri were notified 9 days prior. The timing issue was not directly addressed by the board.
Saul Brooks, the manager of the Capri Motor Inn, said that during his 25 years working at the motel, it has always passed its annual inspection. He said a surprise additional inspection was conducted in May when they were told to install carbon monoxide detectors, but other than that, no deficiencies were cited.
“We did not receive any communication whatsoever from the town, or from any other government body, directing us to make any repairs or address any allegedly dangerous conditions,” Brooks said. “We have never failed or refused to address any issues that the town has asked us to address.”
Assistant Chief Fire Marshall James Hickman previously told the Herald that after the Aug. 7 inspection, the Capri Motor Inn was cited for poor maintenance of the fire alarm system, issues with extension cords and other electrical systems, faulty smoke detectors and issues with the wiring of the carbon monoxide detectors.
“You’re going to run for reelection and tell everyone — just like you did before this hearing — that you all closed that motel,” Schreiber said to the town board. “Maybe the good citizens of Hempstead who are here, will reelect you all for that. I’m sorry to tell them all that as a result of this conduct, their taxes are going to go up. Because, in this country, you have to pay when you take actions that are not authorized by law. And that is what you are doing here.”
Community members spoke out in seemingly unanimous support of closing the Capri Motor Inn for as long as the law allows, if not permanently. Doreen Cantalino has been living in West Hempstead for decades and her son he had to witness the activity at the motel.
“It’s been horrible — there’s no reason for any child to see that,” she said. “I really hope that we can keep this place closed. Goodbye and good riddance.”
Neal Rosenblatt, a board member of the West Hempstead Civic Association, submitted an additional 100 signatures to the WHCSA’s petition to keep the motel closed, bringing the total to 856 signatures. The WHCSA board voted unanimously in support of closing the motel permanently.
“Our residents should not have to accept and put up with the drug sales, prostitution, and drain on police department and emergency services,” he said. “We will not stand for our neighborhood to be overrun by crime and unlawful business.”
Legislator Bill Gaylor also spoke in support of the town’s closing of Capri.
“Community members have consistently and constantly been bringing this to our attention as elected officials, so it’s time to take some action,” Gaylor said. “The hardworking residents of our community and the local businesses should not have to endure such further criminal activity and the dangerous environment that exhibits itself at the Capri motel.”