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Town Changes The Rules For Motels


Colonie’s Blu-Bell and Skylane Motels regularly sheltered needy people who were receiving temporary housing assistance from Albany County. The hotels came to be associated with violence, drug dealing and prostitution. There's been an ongoing effort to demolish the buildings and prevent other motels in the town from meeting a similar fate.

Although the Blu-Bell and Skylane were on a three-year inspection cycle, in the fall of 2013 someone fell through a floor at the Skylane, breaking several bones. A series of events followed that resulted in both motels being closed.

Documents obtained by Newschannel 13 under the Freedom of Information Law showed hundreds of violations at the two motels between 2003 and 2011, including broken windows and exposed wiring, lack of heat, extensive mold growth, and an infestation of spiders.

In January 2014, Albany County Executive Dan McCoy suspended a county employee for allegedly falsifying an inspection at the Skylane.

The hotels became a blight on the town of Colonie, and prompted the town board to create a law limiting the amount of time guests can stay in a motel to 28 days unless the facility has a kitchenette or is attached to a restaurant — efforts to deter guests from assuming permanent residency.  Colonie town supervisor Paula Mahan believes the new law will promote healthier, safer living conditions.   "I feel very comfortable with the way the law is written, and I think it addresses everyone's concerns, to the best of our ability."

Mahan notes other hotels in town already comply with requirements of the new law, which should be finalized at the next board meeting on the 26th.  "The law is very fair. I think it will help us to look at the whole system in a more efficient manner. And I think it's going to help to basically, all the way around, improve the situation for everyone."

The new law will prevent any hotel from degenerating into a Blu-Bell or Skylane:  owner Alex Patel reportedly made millions from Albany County housing the homeless, the displaced, and sex offenders. But they were housed at a price.   Town attorney Michael Maggiulli told Newschannel 13:   "He put people at risk of life and limb, not only the occupants of the motel but the surrounding neighborhood. The place was a disaster waiting to happen."

It’s a problem that stretches across the region. People living on the fringes have few housing options, but cities and towns — including Springfield — have resisted high concentrations of often problematic homeless housing. Solutions are tough to come by.

In March 2014, Patel was arraigned in town court on a slew of code violations and pleaded not guilty. The case dragged on and is now in a six-week adjournment, which is nearing its end: The town wants both hotels demolished, something Patel resists, even as town officials expressed willingness to forgive $750,000 in fines. Patel could not be reached for comment.

Mahan says she expects the final decision on the fate of the two dilapidated motels will be determined in court sometime next week.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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