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New Plaza Motel sues to have nuisance abatement ruling overturned

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Owners of New Plaza Motel in St. Pete are suing the city for imposing new security standards in lieu of forcing the crime-laden, low-budget “residence of last resort” to close.

The city’s nuisance abatement board began proceedings against the motel in March with a quasi-judicial proceeding alleging the motel and attached bar were responsible for above-average calls to police for things like drug deals, prostitution, noise violations and the occasional fight.

After hours of testimony from police about undercover drug buys, the board delayed a decision on how to handle New Plaza and Cactus Charlie’s. In April, the board voted against closing the motel, but instead imposed a fine and additional security requirements including off-duty police officers and security cameras.

New Plaza wants the court to overturn the city’s decision. It’s an imposition owners say will cost the motel at least $84,000 a year. The lawsuit argues the motel can’t afford that and would ultimately be forced to close. They say that constitutes an illegal government “taking” of private property.

Among reasons attorneys for the motel say the board’s decision should be overturned is an argument that came out of the hours of proceedings in April. The alleged drug buys two undercover detectives testified to happened in the bar Cactus Charlie’s, not the motel. Therefore the motel shouldn’t be held accountable for the illegal activity.

Both Cactus Charlie’s and New Plaza Motel are owned by Seminole resident Joseph Caixeiro, but they operate under separate company names – New Plaza of St. Pete Inc., and Cactus Charlies Inc.

Attorneys also argue forcing New Plaza to turn over a list of guests upon request is “patently illegal” and violates privacy rights. A previous nuisance abatement decision required the motel to collect identification from individuals renting rooms.

The latest lawsuit is just another in a long saga plaguing city officials trying to deal with a string of properties responsible for an above-average surge of calls to police and complaints.

New Plaza and Cactus Charlie’s were the culprit in 230 calls for service in a one-year period, according to St. Pete Police.

A neighboring motel, the Mosley, has also sued the city for action taken by the nuisance abatement board.

The city has a long history of dealing with both properties and consistently finds itself tied up on symbolic ownership changes and various other technicalities that keep the businesses up and running.

Owners and supporters of the property say there’s nothing wrong with the motels. A Tampa Bay Times report from 2014 highlighted the Mosley as a saving grace for some single moms and low-income families.

Another article in 2010 portrayed Cactus Charlie’s as an eclectic bar with a mean open-mic night and updated décor. It was a popular hangout for Jack Kerouac back in the day, the story noted.

Regardless, St. Pete City Council member Amy Foster has made it one of her top priorities to fix the problems plaguing the stretch of 34 Street North near Fifth Avenue where the motels operate.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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