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Hurricane motel owner frustrated he couldn't help more after storm

Kenny Kemp
A Hurricane Police cruiser drives through the parking lot of the American Inn in Hurricane on Friday. Owner Navnit Sangani believes the city of Hurricane has unfairly targeted his business, but city officials say it's "filthy" and a hot spot for drugs and crime.

HURRICANE, W.Va. -- While thousands were without power from the massive snow storm last week, Navnit Sangani, owner of the American and Budget inns, was frustrated he couldn't do more to help.

The motels, adjacent to each other on Hurricane Creek Road, were shut down for the second time this year in August. The city of Hurricane and the Putnam County Health Department closed them, citing issues with bed bugs, mold, ventilation and structure concerns, among other things.

At the time, Hurricane Mayor Scott Edwards described the condition of the motels as "absolutely filthy."

Sangani, of Charleston, has owned the motels since 1995. He has spent thousands of dollars making repairs, he said, and was able to reopen the bottom floors of both motels last month, but only after he filed a lawsuit against the city.

"I couldn't help the local people," he said on Friday.

The bottom floors of his motels filled up with people needing a warm place to stay during the storm, and he lost business because he was unable to open other rooms in the motels, he said.

According to a lawsuit filed against the City of Hurricane in Putnam County Circuit Court, Sangani claims the city is harassing him and forcing him to make unnecessary repairs. He also claims the city's building inspector is discriminating against him because he is Indian.

On Friday morning, Sangani didn't want to discuss the pending litigation. Only about 10 cars sat in the parking lot of the motels. Around 10:30 a.m., a Hurricane police car drove through the parking lot.

Edwards said the motels are a hot spot for drugs and crime in the city.

"The people of Hurricane have pushed me to get it cleaned up," he said.

According to the lawsuit, which also names city building inspector Danny Brickles and the county's health department as respondents, Sangani claims he was given no proof of the violations and was forced to comply with an unreasonable timeline to perform repairs.

And even though Sangani was complying with the orders to clean up and fix the alleged problems, despite not agreeing that guests were in danger, according to the suit, the city and the health department yanked his license to operate the motels.

In March, Hurricane officials shut down and evacuated both motels after an inspector said conditions were ripe for a carbon monoxide leak.

"On or about March 2012, without any prior warning or inspection, the Respondents City of Hurricane, led by Respondent Brickles, along with a barrage of police cars, ambulances, and news reporters raided the motels," the lawsuit states. "The petitioners were ordered to shut down the motels for alleged carbon monoxide violations. No proof or evidence was ever given to the Petitioners that carbon monoxide was present in the motels. In fact, both the motels as well as customers were tested for carbon monoxide, and no readings were positive."

Sangani made $70,000 worth of repairs in order to reopen his motels, according to the suit.

In July, when the motels were faced with the threat of being shut down again, rooms were sprayed for bed bugs within 24 hours after being notified by the city of the work that needed to be performed.

Sangani also claims he hired a mold abatement company, a structural engineer and a design and consulting service which deemed the motels safe.

He made numerous requests that the city come back and inspect so he could regain his permits and resume operations. The suit, however, claims they refused to return.

"Further ... Brickles has and continued to discriminate against the Petitioners based on ownership of the Petitioner being 100-percent Indian," the suit states. "When the Petitioners submitted an expert report authored by [a] professional engineer of Indian origin, Mr. Brickles replied that he would not accept any reports to support the Petitioners cause authored by 'another Indian'."

Sangani believes Brickles, who did not return a call Friday evening for comment, and the city want to "force" him out to allow another business to buy the property.

The suit states that Mayor Edwards "offered a buyer to purchase the motels for virtually cents on the dollar."

Edwards said Friday he only asked Sangani how much he wanted for the motels, because he had heard they were for sale.

"I have a guy who keeps saying he's interested ... who is interested in developing some land," Edwards said. "[Sangani] would never tell him how much he wanted for them, so I asked him.

"Some people say we're just being mean, but we want them open -- safely. It actually hurts the city when they're closed financially, because of B&O taxes and the hotel/motel tax."

The case has been assigned to Putnam Circuit Judge Phillip Stowers.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.

 


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