The JR motel has no signage and is not open to the general public.

Orange City Council picks its battles

Residents have complained for years about  construction waste being dumped next to The Reserve neighborhood.

May 2020

By Tina Richards
The Orange City Council revoked a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for a purported motel, citing numerous code violations, unpermitted construction and deceptive practices. The move demonstrates the council’s willingness to shut down questionable activity within the city’s jurisdiction, at least in this case. 

The JR Motel, located at 428 E. Lincoln, was granted a CUP in 2015.  The owner claimed it was a motel. However it was not open to the public, did not have any exterior signage, did not have a phone number to call for reservations and its doors were usually locked.

Soon after it opened, neighbors began complaining that its only clientele appeared to be pregnant Asian women. Indeed, the only booking agency it employed was based in Asia. When city staff inspected the premises last year, they found hallways lined with bassinets, employees wearing scrubs and signs warning guests not to open the door to anyone.​

No-tell motel
Assistant City Attorney Mary Binning detailed a lengthy list of grievances against the motel at the council’s April 14 online meeting.  The list included numerous building and fire code violations, deviation from the approved plans, construction of a hallway and bedrooms in the basement complete with electrical mechanical and plumbing improvements, the addition of doorways to suites on the upper floors and alterations made to exits.  All of the work was done without construction or building permits or city inspections.

The motel itself, Banning explained, was more in keeping with a boarding house, wherein tenants have rental agreements, meals are provided and there is no transient occupancy. The owner did not pay the city Transient Occupancy Tax, as required of hotels and motels, claiming he was exempt because his tenants stayed more than 30 days.

Councilman Chip Monaco summed up the council’s unanimous vote to revoke the CUP noting, “This is a blatant violation of the public trust.  We’ve been mislead since 2015.  The property owner has shown little respect for our laws, our community.”

Listening ears on
Councilman Mike Alvarez acknowledged the role residents played in bringing the illegal activity to the city’s attention. “The first layer we heard from, were people around this location,” he said.  “People contacted city hall when they saw things were out of place.”  He thanked the motel’s neighbors for “making us aware of what’s going on.”

Neighbors further east of the motel in Mabury Ranch, The Reserve, The Colony/Jamestown and Orange Park Acres have been making the city aware of what’s going on regarding the rock crushing/stockpiling operation on Santiago Canyon Road for more than a decade.  The activity, which according to the city’s own ordinances and zoning codes is illegal, creates air pollution, noise, truck traffic and is an eyesore and likely impacts property values.

In this case, however, the city council cannot revoke the facility’s Conditional Use Permit, because it doesn’t have one.  

In 2003, the city council deemed the crushing and stockpiling to be a legal “nonconforming use” of the property.  “Nonconforming use” is a temporary designation.  At that time, then-owner Hansen Aggregates asked the city for three years to recoup its investment in crushing equipment, after which time it would halt operations.  The council did not accept the three-year timeframe.  It OK’d the nonconforming use for an undetermined period and directed staff to “pursue the issue to the fullest extent.” ​

Out of mind
Staff didn’t pursue the issue, and neither did anybody else. Hansen sold the property in 2008; the new owner (JMI investments, later Milan Capital) leased it to a contractor to use for backfilling.

At that time, residents were assured that the work was backfilling only, not grading, and that it would continue until the land reached its natural grade. Santiago Canyon Road was considered the landmark for the natural grade.  Then- City Attorney Dave DeBerry reported that the imported dirt could not exceed the height of the roadway, and that the “city will continue to monitor the site.”

The site was not monitored; the “backfilling” operation turned into construction waste stockpiling and rock crushing that exceeded the natural grade by 40 to 50 feet. 

Not out of sight
In September 2019, the city was notified by a letter from OPA Attorney John Edgecomb, that the crushing/stockpiling was an illegal use of that site. The letter noted that the use was unauthorized by the zoning ordinance applicable to the property, that the non-conforming use was never meant to be permanent and that the site continues to be a public nuisance.  Further, because of the potential public health hazard and blight created by the activity, the city has statutory authority to require the property owner to stop.

The city, however, abdicated its authority to Milan Capital. Unwilling to respond to citizen complaints and shut down the illegal operation, the city council accepted Milan’s premise that if it got approvals to build a housing tract, the rock crushing/stockpiling would stop. The city’s position has been that it can continue to do nothing because the problem will eventually be solved by someone else.

“I’ve never seen evidence this blatant,” Mayor Mark Murphy said of the JR Motel.  “It’s an illegal use within this zoning.” The eyesore that is the rock crushing/stockpiling operation is apparently not as blatant.  Other than supporting the proposed housing on the site, Murphy (and his council colleagues) have been less deliberate about the Sully-Miller issue.