The 7 Star Motel on East Colfax has been summoned for a show-cause hearing to explain why its license should not be revoked or suspended at the same time the Denver City Attorney’s Office has initiated a nuisance abatement case against the motel.
This is the first time — at least in existing city records — that Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses has used a show-cause proceeding against a lodging facility. More typically, this mechanism is used to go after bars, liquor stores and marijuana shops accused of selling to minors and other infractions.
Under city code and state law, a lodging facility license can be revoked if the owner or employees of a motel break the law themselves or allow the law to be broken on the premises. A license can also be revoked if there is evidence that prostitution takes place at the location.
The complaint associated with the show-cause order lists “numerous crimes that have occurred on the licensed premises,” including aggravated assaults, drug dealing, robbery, prostitution, felony menacing (this generally means threatening someone with a gun) and shootings at the motel at 8400 E. Colfax Ave.
“For multiple years, the premises have been operated in a manner that is extremely detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the entire surrounding area, and despite continued and sustained efforts to mitigate the criminal activity and violence at the respondent’s establishment, the illegal manner in which it operates continues,” the complaint reads.
The business license is held by Ha Rim Corporation. A manager who answered the phone at the 7 Star said he’s familiar with the city’s claims, but said he would need to talk to his lawyer before speaking to me. A day later, I haven’t heard back. I’ll update this post if I get a response from the motel ownership.
Tom Fesing, a board member of the East Colfax Neighborhood Association, has called for the city take more aggressive enforcement action against the motels that line East Colfax, and the association’s Facebook page is encouraging residents to attend the show-cause hearing on Nov. 16 and provide evidence of the impact the motel has on the surrounding community.
“We’re just really happy,” Fesing said. “That motel has been the cause of a lot of crime and nuisance issues for the people living north and south of the avenue. … Whether you are complicit or not, your business is a nuisance, and if it’s not resolved, it needs to be shut down.”
While the show-cause hearing deals with the business license, the nuisance abatement case deals with the property itself. Under the city’s nuisance abatement law, it can take possession of a nuisance property for a certain amount of time. Nuisance properties are ones where there is persistent criminal activity, and property owners are seen as having a responsibility to prevent that.
In some nuisance abatement cases, a business or home can remain open if the owners agree to certain conditions, like barring certain individuals from the property. In “worst-case scenarios,” the property is boarded up and closed for up to three years; in those circumstances, the owners sometimes choose to sell or lease the property to another person. Jenna Espinoza, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, said the city tries to avoid having properties boarded up for long periods of time because vacant properties present their own hazards for the surrounding community.
An affidavit in support of the nuisance abatement case says the property has generated more than 100 calls for service just in 2017 and has seen “consistent and abundant criminal activity the past several years.”
The affidavit describes three incidents in detail, all from this summer. Two describe open drug dealing at the 7 Star by people with past felony convictions. The people arrested in those cases also had illegal firearms, according to police. The third incident involved two men shooting at a passing vehicle from the parking lot of the 7 Star. Both of the men were convicted felons who are not allowed to own guns, the affidavit said.
“That’s what the nuisance ordinance is for,” City Attorney Kristin Bronson said. “While some might criticize us for not acting enough, we take the responsibility to close a business very seriously.”
Denver maintains a Motel Task Force, a group that involves multiple agencies working on public health and safety issues related to motels, and those inspections sometimes lead to enforcement action. Bronson said the city tries to work with motel owners to improve conditions without shutting them down because they provide housing for people who might not have anywhere else to go. However, the vulnerability of those populations means the city also has a responsibility to make sure motels are safe. A special Neighborhood Prosecution Team handles these cases.
Denver condemned the Days Inn at 6th Avenue and Federal Boulevard in 2013. This is the first nuisance abatement case against a motel since then and since the Motel Task Force was created.
“I don’t think anyone involved in the motel task force would say our work is done,” Bronson said. “We’ve had the motel task force for four years, and significant challenges remain.”
This article has been updated to include more information about the nuisance abatement process and to clarify the role of the Motel Task Force.