Friday, February 02, 2007

Down the Drain at the Spa Court?

Some interesting recent developments over at the Spa Court. (For you new readers, this is the south side of the 1100 block of Queen Street.)

In a hearing in Alexandria General District Court last week, Antioch Church prevailed in an eviction proceeding against the owner of the Hair Clinic.

The barber shop, which has been the target of many complaints for attracting hangers-on and other undesirables, now sports a sign saying "Closing Soon."

It isn't clear if this is sign that Antioch Church is preparing to sell its property for development, or simply a matter of removing one tenant to make way for another.

They Call It "Community Policing"

Last night's community meeting on the Travelodge went off smoothly, with some 25 neighbors and parishioners of St. Joseph's Church turning out to talk to police about drug dealing and prostitution around the motel. A bonus was that Fox 5 News arrived to cover the gathering and gave the story second lead (after the winter storm warning) on the 11:00 PM news.

Owner Rafat Mahmood did not attend, nor apparently did any motel residents past or present.

Meeting organizer Shannon McGahey launched the discussion on a conciliatory note, expressing her hope that the community could work with the motel to improve the quality of life for everyone in the neighborhood. She then turned it over to the police -- and boy, was the Growler pleasantly surprised!

The tag-team of Officer Gerald Ford, and new Deputy Police Chief Cleveland Spruill — who's been in his new job just a few months — is an impressive one. Officer Ford was tasked by Chief Spruill to work on the problem when it came down from the City Manager's office, and is the long-time residential officer in the James Bland housing project.

Officer Ford brought more than a decade of experience and all of his neighborhood knowledge to bear on the situation at the motel, studying the problem from every angle and even hitting the books to find out what police and the motel manager were permitted under the statutes to deal with the undesirables and their activities.

This low-key, non-confrontational approach seems to be working well. According to Officer Ford, the motel manager has been amenable to all of the measures suggested by the cops. The manager himself decided to evict five troublemakers. He's prominently posted rules and regulations about acceptable conduct for guests, and has completed paperwork which will enable the Alexandria police to arrest anyone evicted from the premises for trespass should they attempt to show up again.

Some of the community's fears about City placements at the motel were allayed last night. Officer Ford disclosed that before the evictions he had run a check on 24 Travelodge registered guests and a few others he suspected were involved. Turns out none of the residents had been placed in the motel by the City. Citizens were relieved to hear that Probation & Parole does not place newly-released criminals in the motel, although the Department of Mental Health Services may do so on occasion.

Officer Ford also pulled in Code Enforcement for assistance with the motel. While inspectors found no technical violations, the officer nevertheless persuaded the manager to get discarded mattresses hauled away from the site. He also seems prepared to work with church parishioners and the motel on continuing issues relating to garbage disposal.

Finally, the police pledged not to abandon the neighborhood after this preliminary progress but promised to continue monitoring the Travelodge and its occupants to make sure there aren't continuing problems. They ultimately hope to bring together Mr. Mahmood and the community for further dialogue.

So it proved a successful evening all around. In fact, the Growler later realized that we had all been witness to two things sorely missing around here in the last few years: classic community policing and grassroots community activism.

Now how can we get Officer Ford uptown for a while?