Waits Motel condemnation given formal OK

Wait’s manager Emily Simpson and husband Doug Modig at the motel on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 11.

EVERETT —  A 5-1 City Council vote last week to formally condemn the Waits Motel now leaves the site with few ways to avoid being repurposed.
The city may file in superior court seeking to have a judge grant Everett the right to use eminent domain to acquire the motel property if it can't convince the owner to voluntarily sell. It had negotiated to buy the motel previously, and will continue to do so, lines in the condemnation ordinance say.
The property at 1301 Lombard Ave. was assessed this year at $2 million, county records show.
The city labeled the Waits as a neighborhood blight as its reason to condemn for its crime-ridden past.
Manager Emily Simpson and husband Doug Modig have a contract to buy the Waits, which the condemnation shoved a wedge into.
They said last week they are thinking of going to court to appeal.
Their vision is to upscale and rebrand the Waits by overhauling all the rooms. The long-term residents would be able to stay, Simpson said. She said they’ve made arrangements with about seven investors to cover the upfront costs to secure the purchase such as to put the down payment on the approximately $2 million loan.
Mayor Cassie Franklin has said her vision is for the property to be redeveloped into housing. The city said previously it would seek a developer to do so. The City Council would make any final decision on how it is used or redeveloped.
Depending on where you stand, this is a story of the little guy trying not to get swallowed up, or of aggrieved neighbors eager to see the wrecking ball come.
A significant percentage of homeowners in surrounding blocks, bar a few vocal supporters, said the history of crime from the Waits is unbearable and unsafe. Neighbors have encountered drug users and found needles and excrement in their yards.
The city labeled the motel a neighborhood blight on two criteria available in state law: It constitutes a threat to public health and welfare and has been had much drug activity in the past 12 months.
The city’s paperwork arguing to condemn cites police had 236 calls on the motel’s property from March 2022 to June 1, 2023. Some were serious, including overdoses.
“Consider the facts in this document,” not emotions, one neighbor implored council.
In March, the numbers began falling when Simpson moved in. There were 19 calls in March, 11 in April and four in May. More recently, the Waits had six police calls during June and five during July, the city said.
The last time it’s been at five calls was April 2022, police records show.
“There’s been a radical change over there,” a neighbor told the council.
State condemnation law requires the city to relocate displaced tenants with equal or better housing. Everett will likely hire a relocation specialty service.
“In this case, it would almost certainly result in improved living conditions for the people who currently reside at the Waits,” city attorney David Hall said.
The law says the city must pay any rent cost difference between the $1,600 a month people pay at the Waits and the cost for their new place. The requirement is for up to 42 months.
Long-term guests who consider the Waits their home asked council not to condemn. Some are on fixed incomes.
“There’s a lot of people here that need this place,” a long-term resident named Rosemary told the City Council.
One of the longest guests has been here 10 years, Simpson said.
Councilwoman Mary Fosse, who voted for condemnation, said that the city’s goal “is not to have people homeless. The goal is to have living conditions that everyone deserves” with a kitchen and other items for long-term living.
Simpson said some of the units have kitchenettes with sinks; all have mini-fridges.
Simpson and Modig still are left wondering what the city will do. The land’s zoned for housing, but its zoning does allow for public or institutional purposes under a conditional use permit.
Councilwoman Liz Vogeli gave the sole “no” vote on condemning the Waits.
While relocation services “would make the situation better,” Vogeli said, she loves the turnaround story of the Waits. “I would like to continue to see that magic.”
A couple of council members have publicly praised Simpson, and said they hope she will see out her boutique motel vision elsewhere.
Simpson said that wouldn’t work. For one, there are few motels left as small as the 23-room Waits.
“A lot of people are saying why not do it at a different hotel, and it’s not the same,” Simpson said.