Closing a Zumstein Drive motel last summer for alleged ongoing criminal activity and violations of health regulations may have served as a warning to the owners of similar operations concentrated near the intersection of Interstate 71 and East Dublin-Granville Road.
That was the assessment offered last week to Northland Community Council members by Assistant City Attorney William Sperlazza and Larry Geis, community liaison officer for one of the precincts serving the area.
"Maybe we can turn that area around out there," Geis said.
Meanwhile, Sperlazza reported that the trial involving charges the city brought against Columbus Inn and Suites, 6121 Zumstein Drive, and its owners, including Mohammad Ashraf, former president of the Northland Area Business Association, is over. Closing briefs from his office and the defense attorneys for the parties involved were due by Oct. 8, he said.
After that, Geis and Sperlazza indicated, it will be up to the Franklin County Environmental Court judge to rule on how long the motel will remain closed. Sperlazza said he believes the city's case was a strong one and Geis told NCC members he doubts the establishment will reopen any time soon.
It will be important now, Geis added, for police officers to make certain that homeless people don't break into the sealed motel.
Sperlazza said he expects a ruling on the city's case by the middle of October. The place will remain boarded up until that time, and possibly for much longer, he added.
Among those testifying on behalf of the city was Brandon L. Boos, NCC secretary and representative for the Salem neighborhood, where the cluster of motels is located. He, as well as another community liaison officer, Scott Clinger, did a "fantastic job" of testifying, Sperlazza said.
Columbus Inn and Suites was abruptly closed by city officials June 12 and all tenants and guests were forced to move elsewhere. The action followed a lengthy investigation by police officers and city officials that turned up numerous instances of drug-dealing and prostitution, as well as health and safety code violations.
In keeping up the pressure on other establishments in the area -- there are 16 total, according to Geis -- "nuisance letters" have been sent to 11 owners or operators detailing legal and code issues.
Several are making inquiries into how to come in compliance with the law and regulations, Geis said. Action taken against Columbus Inn and Suites, he said, provided a "good wake-up call."
By no means are all of the area's motels problems for city law enforcement and health department officials, he said.
"There are some nice hotels up there that still try to do the right thing," Geis said.
There are, however, others run by people who "don't seem to care," he added.