published Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

City files petition to close lodge

by Michael Stone

Andrienne Kitchen’s eyes fill with tears when she thinks about leaving her home for the past six years.

Kitchen lives in a neatly kept one-bedroom apartment at Superior Creek Lodge in East Ridge and works at the complex as a cleaner. She enthusiastically shows off her decorated bedroom and living room.

But the city wants to shut the lodge down, saying it’s a magnet for crime and a public nuisance.

“When I first found out, I just started crying,” she said. “I’ve been crying all day.”

Kitchen said the past year has been rough on her. She was temporarily displaced when heavy rains caused the lodge to be flooded last September. The flood also killed her husband, Sylvester Kitchen. On a $5 bet to buy beer, he tried to cross a culvert at East 14th Street while waters were high and drowned when swept away.

“I don’t want to go anywhere,” Kitchen said. “This is home. This is my foundation. If I have to leave, where can I begin?”

But East Ridge officials are adamant and, at a Monday meeting, discussed the upcoming attempt to shut down the lodge under an abatement of nuisance petition. The city has an extensive list of crimes committed by residents of the motel, officials said.

“This is an issue that we have been working on for over 31/2 years,” East Ridge Mayor Mike Steele said Monday to roughly 100 residents. “This community has been very patient with this council during that process. I know many times I’ve had folks come to me and say: ‘What are you doing about this situation?’”

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press - On Tuesday morning, from right, Chris Wooten, his son, Ethan Wooten, and stepson, Chet Stone, relax outside of their room at Superior Creek Lodge, an extended-stay motel located on Mack Smith Road. Wooten and his family have been at the motel for three weeks now and if the city of East Ridge doesn't close the motel, they plan to stay longer.

Management at the lodge declined to comment Tuesday.

The city hasn’t tried to shut down the lodge until now, city attorney John Anderson said Tuesday, because it needed to compile documentation showing the list of complaints against the lodge from police, fire and other city services.

A 300-page court document from the city, which contains mostly crime reports, was filed in Hamilton County Criminal Court Tuesday.

“Hundreds of hours have gone into preparing this case,” Steele said.

The case, the State of Tennessee for the City of East Ridge v. Superior Creek Lodge, will be first heard on Monday at 9 a.m., according to the court documents.

“This day has been a long time coming for us,” Eddie Phillips, East Ridge’s interim city manager and public safety director, said at Monday’s meeting.

From the time Superior Creek was given a business license in April 2006 through June 30, 2010, East Ridge responders received 2,654 calls for service to the lodge, city records show. East Ridge police received 2,099, the East Ridge Fire Department had 379, and 176 traffic stops were made on the property, records state.

There were 205 arrests of residents, including 31 made by agencies outside of East Ridge, during the lodge’s four-year existence, documents show. Steele said Tuesday he was unaware of how many of those arrests turned into convictions.

The mayor said he realizes “90 to 95 percent” of the residents at the lodge are not responsible for the alleged crimes.

“Now I understand it’s a very small percentage of the total, but it’s the fact that it’s been going on and on and on,” Steele said.

After offering “a number of suggestions” to an “absent” owner who lives near Atlanta, Steele said the city decided to bring the case against the lodge since crime wasn’t stopping.

“We feel like they are obviously allowing this to go on,” he said.

Lodge owner David Gysin, who lives in Kennesaw, Ga., said “no comment” when contacted Tuesday.

Many of the crimes were reported by businesses near the lodge, the East Ridge City Council discussed Monday. Employees of several nearby businesses declined to comment Tuesday, saying they are worried about possible retaliation.At Monday’s meeting, Steele specifically mentioned Holiday Inn Express Manager Neil Patel about the crime against businesses.

“I was kind of surprised at (my name being mentioned),” Patel said Tuesday. “I didn’t even know that was going to happen. I was there for the budget meeting.”

Patel said crimes have happened in his parking lot near the lodge, mostly vehicle break-ins, but he had made no specific complaints about its residents to city officials.

Steele said East Ridge officials plan to work with different agencies, including the American Red Cross, to find alternate housing for residents who will displaced if the lodge is closed. He said he wasn’t aware if there is housing that offers an equal rent price in East Ridge.

One of the lodge’s residents, Chris Wooten, said he feels it’s a couple of “bad apples” that caused the city’s petition. He said he “doesn’t know” where he and his family will move if it’s closed.

“It’ll put us in a big bind, a real big bind,” he said. “We’ve been calling around trying to find somewhere and everything’s too high (priced).”

Click here to vote in our daily poll: Should East Ridge officials close Superior Creek Lodge?

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twyla67 said...

I moved into Superior Creek Lodge about four years ago. My husband and I were looking for a temporary place til we found a home we wanted. We were trying to get our kids out of the area we had been in, which was rampant with drugs and hookers. BIG mistake. When we moved into the motel, we were pretty content with the facilities and the price, and at first glance back then, there seemed to be nothing wrong. One day while out at the pool, I noticed one of the same drug dealers who had been in my old neighborhood, approaching my daughter. I immediately went to the management and told them that a crack dealer was on the premises, that he had approached my daughter, and that we had watched him go into several of the rooms. The manager said she would take care of it and we were satisfied with that. The next day the man was back...we reported again. A couple of nights later, my husband went to escort our daughter back to the room from where she had been playing with some friends and he noticed people "posted up" at each end of the hallways and on every floor. We've lived in a "crack" neighborhood, so we knew what was going on. Once again, we approached management, once again we were told she would look into it. By this time we were noticing quite a bit....the staff was talking alot with the drug dealer we had seen, we noticed several of the staff that were obviously "geeked" up, my daughter was approached by one of the staff about buying went on and on. I called the police finally. He looked around, did what he said he could do and left. The next morning we were told we had to leave. When we asked why, the manager told us that they didn't need anyone calling the police from there.

This is NOT one or two bad apples...this place is almost an organized dug house. Anyone who lives there KNOWS what's going on. Yes, I believe there are some that have no choice, but most are there specifically to deal and use. The management knows about it, tolerates it and basically encourages the criminal behavior that goes on there. Crack is sold on a regular basis there, meth is cooked there, pills and every other kind of drug you can imagine is distributed through this place. It's known by many as the place to go to get anything you want.

August 11, 2010 at 6:46 a.m.
outdoorguy said...

Very nice! Looks like you interviewed one of the crackheads himself. Chris Wooten has been arrested twice in the past month for theft. One of the incidents happend at the nearby Cracker Barrell. He was caught breaking into a car for his next fix. Good example of why the place needs to be shut down. East Ridge Tactical Patrol officers arrested Chris N. Wooten, 28, of East Ridge on Monday night after officers observed him breaking into a car in the parking lot of the Cracker Barrel restaurant at 1460 N. Mack Smith Road.

A tactical patrol officer who was conducting undercover operations in the area observed Wooten break a window out of the victim’s car and remove several items. The suspect then began to flee towards and into the Superior Creek Lodge.

Police chased the suspect through several buildings and hallways and into room 361 where Wooten has been living. The suspect was apprehended while attempting to hide under a bed.

A number of the victim’s stolen items were recovered in the room and returned to the owner. Police recovered evidence that Wooten may also be involved in other burglaries in the area, and the investigation is continuing.

Wooten was transported to the Hamilton County Jail and charged with burglary of an auto, theft over $500, evading arrest and vandalism. Wooten is scheduled to be in East Ridge Municipal Court next Tuesday at 5 p.m.

August 11, 2010 at 12:50 p.m.
harrystatel said...

Sounds like Wooten should be on the East Ridge City Manager short list.

August 11, 2010 at 1:36 p.m.
twyla67 said...

Sorry..had to add this upon re reading the article...I think the mayor needs to "realize" a little better if he thinks that 90-95 percent of the residents are innocent of the "alleged" crimes committed there. It's more like 5 percent are innocent and the other 95 percent are dealing! I CHALLENGE the mayor of East Ridge to check out the records on most of these so called "innocent" bystanders. I think he's in for a rude awakening!

August 11, 2010 at 5:09 p.m.
deltenney said...

Close it down. Save the city's resources. Help the five percent of decent people there find decent housing. Put the dealers in jail. With this kind of record, it is obviously a public nuisance.

August 11, 2010 at 8:31 p.m.
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