Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Activities near motel on The Queensway irk Etobicoke residents

Etobicoke residents say they are tired of looking out their front windows and seeing questionable activities happening near a budget motel on The Queensway.

“I’ve seen drug deals happening on the corner where the motel is. . . . I’ve seen stoned, cracked-out hookers half naked walking the streets, could barely walk, could barely talk. I’ve seen it all over the last couple of years, right in the area, right on my street,” said Vladimir Trkulja, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 15 years.

Trkulja was one of about 40 people who came to St. Louis Catholic School one evening last week to voice their concerns about Queensway Motel on The Queensway near Royal York Rd.

Russell Silverstein, lawyer for the motel’s owner, Andy Mehta, said he’s sympathetic to residents’ concerns but noted his client has a right to run a budget motel.

The motel rents rooms for 24 hours for about $80, and also has a four-hour rate, Silverstein told the crowd.

“He’s not breaking the law. He doesn’t harbour lawbreakers, he doesn’t want them on his property. He co-operates with the police every way he can to keep criminals from using his property,” Silverstein said after the meeting. “But nonetheless, it is a budget motel.”

There isn’t anything Mehta can do to ensure criminal activity isn’t happening on his property, Silverstein said.

“It’s no Royal York. It’s toward the end of the spectrum of hotels. But there’s a demand for it and my client satisfies that demand.”

A budget motel is bound to attract a certain crowd, area councillor Peter Milczyn told residents, adding there’s not much the city can do about it. Hotels and motels aren’t licensed municipally and there aren’t any real issues with the building’s property standards, Milczyn explained.

“The solution to a business like that is for it to move on and to be replaced by something that’s more in keeping with the aspirations of the community for their neighbourhood.”

The area around the motel is evolving, but the transformation won’t happen overnight, said Milczyn, adding he’s lived in the neighbourhood his entire life.

“The Queensway’s an odd place because you have some great restaurants, some great businesses that attract customers from all over the place. And then you have these anomalies in between that are sort of holdovers from a different era.”

Mehta would be more than willing to sell his property for the right price, Silverstein said.

“If somebody wanted to offer my client enough money to turn his property into a restaurant or something, he’d be thrilled.”

But residents such as Trkulja are frustrated about what’s happening in the area now. He said his young son and teenage daughter are starting to notice the activity outside the motel and ask questions.

“It’s hard to explain to a 15-year-old girl,” Trkulja said.

Several people at the meeting questioned two local police officers about what they were doing to keep the neighbourhood safe, and said they’d like to see a larger police presence in the area.

“We’re doing what we can with our resources,” said Nitin Bhandari, an officer from 22 Division.

Bhandari encouraged the residents to collect information about what they’re seeing outside the motel, such as the licence plates of vehicles visiting a number of times in a single day. That request doesn’t quell Trkulja’s concerns.

“I don’t think the residents of the area should be having to look out their window 24/7, trying to write down licence plates and try to call police that are going to take three, four hours to show up.”

Someone needs to put pressure on the motel owner, Trkulja said. But after the meeting, he wasn’t feeling confident that the pressure was on its way.

“I don’t think anything is going to be done,” he said. “Everyone looks like they’re just trying to pass the buck to someone else.”
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