Slum tenants complain about sad motel in Ridge; officials promise help

Families living broken heating system in dilapidated rental units owned by prominent family

By Ken Rossignol
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY

RIDGE, MD. It has been years since the neighbors of the old Southridge bar mounted a strong protest against the operator who was renting the once-popular restaurant and lounge and his concerts. The community outcry brought in St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s deputies, liquor board inspectors, health inspectors and zoning officials as dozens of citizens showed up for public meetings and protested Boatman’s sports bar, which at one point, even featured a topless bartender.
Now, the bar is closed and reportedly has been vacant for several years but the adjoining dozen or so motel units are still occupied. What once served as rentals for visiting watermen who would spend several months at a time working nearby waters of the Chesapeake and the Potomac River as well as fishermen arriving for charter trips, now serves as housing of last resort for the working poor and some who don’t work.

What is different now is that the motel units rent for $700.00 a month for what is essentially two rooms, including electricity.
While the septic system, according to the tenants is failing and reeks of sewage and a pipe groans as it belches streams of sewage onto the ground on a daily basis, what has distressed the tenants the most is the lack of heat during this cold winter.

Director of Environmental Health for St. Mary’s County, Maryland Darryl Calvano told THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY that his office had received a complaint on Feb. 27th and responded the same day for the report of sewage on the surface.
“We checked it to the extent that we can and at this point, we don’t believe this is sewage,” said Calvano. “We are trying to establish the source of the water, whether it be a foundation drain or groundwater. It could be a sump pump from under the bar building but we really need to get into some drier weather in order to make a fix.”

Calvano noted that the property septic system had been modified in 2011 with a sand mound system and the Maryland Department of the Environment had been working with the owner of the property to determine a fix for the water which appears on the surface.

Septic problems at Southridge Motel and Bar have been existing for years.

“This really has to be done in the driest time of the year and we are quite a ways from it right now, in fact, at this point, we don’t even see an end to wet month testing for the installations of septic systems in the poorer soil areas of the county.”

“We are fairly certain that this is not sewage but some sort of subsurface water,” said Calvano.

“All I have is one small space heater and I am afraid to leave it on at night or when I leave to go to work,” said Kathy Hazel. “When I turn it off for the night, the cord is hot to the touch and with an old building, you know what that could mean, old wiring and a hot cord, it scares me.”

Hazel said that the resident manager told her that the landlord has to supply heat, but their agreement doesn’t specify what kind and when the furnace broke, the tenants in the old motel, which would make the Bates Motel look like the Hyatt, will just have to live with space heaters.

Hazel says that manager, Terry O’Neill has family members who live in some of the units and at least one of the rentals is a Section 8 unit.

Section 8 housing must meet minimum federal standards of health and repair. Photos provided by Hazel of her unit and the motel reveal a general poor state of maintenance.

When government officials show up to do inspections on dilapidated properties, the likelihood of tenants being forced to vacate by the property owner or the inspectors, was pointed out to Hazel as a possible result of publicity of her plight.

“I don’t care, I am moving out here anyway, my husband is looking for a place for us now, and I just can’t take the cold anymore. I have to leave my dogs in the efficiency without heat during the day and I freeze along with them at night,” said Hazel.
Hazel pointed out that other residents are afraid to complain for fear of being evicted.

Phil Shire, the director of Land Use for St. Mary’s County has the responsibility for oversight of housing codes. Shire told THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY that his office would immediately address the heating system conditions as well as other complaints of the tenants of the property.

“The tenants need not fear that they will be without a place to live,” said Shire. “We will work with the property owner to get problems corrected and the county will assist the tenants if need be.”

When Boatman operated the Southridge bar, the sewage problems were severe and Hazel says that she was told that the current problems would require $70,000 in repairs to fix the septic and that the owner was unwilling to make the repairs.

The property is owned by Mike and Laurie Raley, owners of the Bill Raley’s Furniture Company. Southridge had quite a reputation as one of the best dining spots in the region for many years when it was operated by David Raley. Waiting to get a seat in the dining room was to be expected and many groups held meetings and banquets in the facility.

Scott Boatman’s operation of the business location was easily the more colorful.

Under Boatman, the business provided the community with quite an earful of loud noise and some profane lyrics by at least one band during a 2007 concert. As a result the Alcohol Beverage Board imposed a $1,000 fine and set forth a long list of requirements that had to be met before future concerts would be allowed. As a result, the promoter, Scott Boatman, moved a Molly Hatchet concert to Seaside View, which had ample parking for a large event.
Boatman had problems with the septic at that time which may never have been completely corrected.

A petition was submitted to the county over the concerts with the names of 127 citizens including then-Commissioner Dan Raley as being opposed to the liquor board allowing concerts on the property.

“This is one of the wettest winters on record and there are many areas of the county with poor soils where property owners have standing water over top of their drain fields and toilets are draining very slowly,” said Calvano. “We truly need some dry weather.”

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