Colonial Beach motel residents facing eviction
BY ROBYN SIDERSKY
The 36 residents of the Beachgate Inn in Colonial Beach could be homeless after Jan. 3 due to significant problems with the motel that make it unsafe to live there.
After a car ran into the building last week, killing a resident and causing significant damage to the building, the town building inspector and a state fire marshal inspected the structure and found a “dangerous situation” with the wiring, said Town Mayor-elect Mike Ham.
Because of those issues, the building is considered a fire danger and unsafe to live in, Ham said.
An affidavit from the state fire marshal identifies several significant concerns regarding the conditions of the motel, which is located at 800 Colonial Ave.
Among issues cited are:
Loose electrical connections and damaged conduits.
A worn and unsecured main electrical feed into the building.
Electrical outlets in rooms that are wired incorrectly or are improperly grounded.
The “pervasive use” of household extension cords that are covered with combustible material such as clothing.
Use of appliances, such as full-size refrigerators, large-screen televisions and various cooking items that “far exceed” the electrical load for a room.
Portable, battery-operated smoke detectors that are easily removable at any time.
“There is a high risk of the potential for fire due to the electrical hazards and this risk is heightened by the use of this facility for residential (sleeping) purposes,” fire marshal Timothy Ritchey said in the affidavit.
Because it is unsafe, the residents can no longer stay there. And many say they have no place to go.
One woman said Tuesday she has lived in the motel since September with her husband and four children and doesn’t know what they will do next week when they are forced to leave.
Town Councilman Tim Curtin has been working with building owner Douglas Simms, along with Ham and other town officials to deal with the situation.
Ham said the town worked out an agreement with Simms on Friday that the notice to leave would not be posted until Dec. 27, giving tenants until then to get their affairs in order. The agreement said there would be a 24-hour fire watch, paid for by Simms, until then.
A fire watch essentially involves fire officials completing frequent inspections of the building to make sure there is no threat of fire.
But Curtin said Simms told the contractor who was doing the fire watch, Northern Neck Builders, to stop at 2 a.m. Monday, which would have forced the residents to be out the morning of Christmas Eve because there was no longer a fire watch.
Simms could not be reached for comment.
So Sunday morning, the town council held an emergency meeting and authorized payment of up to $4,000 to extend the fire watch until Jan. 3.
Curtin said they picked Jan. 3 because it will give the residents time to get in touch with social services and nonprofit agencies after the holidays.
“We couldn’t choose to ignore this because of the timing, but we could try to figure out a way to lessen the blow,” Curtin said.
Ham said it costs $650 per day for the fire watch.
To offset the cost of the fire watch, town council members and members of the town’s volunteer fire department will take shifts, Ham said.
“If it wasn’t for Colonial Beach, we wouldn’t have had a Christmas,” one tenant said on Christmas Day.
Ham said the problems with the wiring were found only because of the crash last Friday, but added the building has deteriorated over the years.
Ham said Simms has said he will go in and fix the problems.
Curtin said from the building inspector’s report and the appearance of the building, there are issues.
“I’m concerned about the future of the building, period,” Curtin said. “I’m beginning to wonder whether the building can be permitted to exist in the future, whether it will just end up coming down.”
Some residents interviewed Tuesday said their rent, which is paid by either the week or the month, was collected before they were told they had to leave.
The rental rates vary—some say they pay $150 per week or $500 per month for a room with one bed, and some say they pay $160 per week for a room with two beds or $600 per month, residents said.
Mike Howard and Kyle Payne have lived at the motel for about two months.
Payne said he moved to Colonial Beach from Fredericksburg because it’s cheaper.
A tenant who asked not to be named out of fear of early eviction said a lot of people who live at the motel are there because they have no place else to go.
“Fredericksburg is too expensive,” Payne agreed. “I moved here because it’s all I can afford.”
Another tenant, who also asked not to be identified, described the tenants as maintaining a family-like atmosphere, and said they all help one another out. They even had a Thanksgiving meal together outside the motel.
One resident said that in the two years her family has lived in the motel, they have not caused problems—they paid their rent on time, and pitched in with money out of their own pockets to garden and make a play area for the children who live there.
She defended the little community.
“It’s actually hardworking people, not a bunch of bums,” she said.
One reason she is afraid of moving is that she doesn’t know where her daughter will attend school.
The family doesn’t know where they’ll go yet, she said, but they have started packing.
Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413
WANT TO HELP?
Anyone interested in helping the Beachgate Inn residents should contact Tim Curtin at tcurtin@colonialbeachva .net!