published Friday, December 30th, 2011

City turns to fire code in effort to shutter Club Fathom


by Cliff Hightower
Mosaic's clearly marked back entrance leads to a parking lot maintained by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office. Several signs posted throughout the lot make that known to the public.
Mosaic's clearly marked back entrance leads to a parking lot maintained by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office. Several signs posted throughout the lot make that known to the public.
Photo by Alex Washburn.

Chattanooga cracked down on the Mosaic church Thursday, saying only 100 people will be allowed into the facility from now on, and they can’t venture more than 100 feet away from the front door.

Fire Marshal James Whitmire said he gave those instructions to the Rev. Tim Reid, pastor of Mosaic church, shortly after a surprise inspection Thursday.

“He can only use the main floor on Market Street,” Whitmire said. He said the building’s second floor, with two performance halls, is off limits because patrons will no longer be allowed to use the door to the back parking lot.

Reid said Thursday he feels the city is specifically targeting his church at 412 Market St. in what he called an “abuse of power.”

“Those inspectors come in every year and we’ve never had these problems until now,” he said. “It’s very weird that they find it now.”

City and police officials say Mosaic and its urban youth program, Club Fathom, are a dangerous nuisance with a history of fights, shootings and a rape over the past several years.

Controversy flared when nine people were shot in a nearby parking lot after some 400 teens and young adults left a Christmas Eve event at Club Fathom.

The city has filed for an injunction in Hamilton County Circuit Court, seeking to shut the venue down before a planned New Year’s Eve party with deejays playing electronic music.

A second church that uses the space filed a motion to intervene in the court hearing this morning in which the city will ask that Mosaic be padlocked.

River City Church, which is not affiliated with Mosaic, wants the building to stay open so it can hold its usual 11 a.m. service Sunday, according to a motion filed Thursday by attorney McCracken Poston.

River City’s pastor, the Rev. Martin Scott, said his nondenominational church, mostly Southern Baptists and Presbyterians, leases space from Mosaic.

Scott, who also is a Georgia state representative, said his church isn’t taking sides in the battle between Mosaic and the city but just wants to hold services.

“If we were to shut down, it would be a heartbreaker,” he said.

Assistant City Attorney Phil Noblett said Chattanooga has had no problems with the venue during church service hours, whether it’s Mosaic’s regular 5 p.m. Sunday service or River City Church.

“The issue is late in the evenings and the number of people,” he said.

SURPRISE INSPECTION

City inspectors arrived at Mosaic around noon Friday. Whitmire said he reviewed the maximum occupancy of the building, which is 1,903 people. Based upon city criteria, the facility should have 26 to 29 toilets for that number of people, but it has only six, he said.

Whitmire said any place that can hold 1,000 or more people must have four exits, but Mosaic has only three. One is inadequate because it leads through a supply room.

The second-floor door leading to a parking lot facing Cherry Street can’t be used because the parking lot is leased by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. Mosaic doesn’t have a written agreement with the department allowing patrons on the leased property, Whitmire said.

Reid “claimed there was a verbal agreement,” Whitmire said. “But he couldn’t tell us who he talked to.”

That door has a large “Mosaic” sign over it and has been the commonly used entrance for entertainment events. A few yards to the left of the door a sign on the brick wall says the sheriff’s office monitors the parking lot and unauthorized vehicles may be towed.

Sheriff Jim Hammond confirmed Thursday that his office leases the parking lot from Unum for jail employees to use during the day.

“I know they’ve [Mosaic church] used it in the past,” he said, “kind of like squatter’s rights.”

He said the sheriff’s office does not want anyone from Mosaic parking in the lot from now on and might post a sign to that effect in the future.

Whitmire acknowledged that, in years past, the city found nothing wrong at Mosaic in connection with code violations, but he said the recent complaints led to a full review of the venue. The city has such discretion in matters of public safety, he said.

Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth will oversee a hearing this morning on whether the Mosaic church can continue to operate.

Reid said that even if the church keeps going, there may need to be multiple services to stay within the 100-person guideline.

“We have more than 100 people,” he said.

Reid also said the church may go ahead with its New Year’s Eve party, just not at the Mosaic building.

He has contacted other churches in the area who are willing to host his event, he said, but would not identify them.

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fairmon said...

This action will not stop the drunk, drugged and dumb from being violent, it will force them to do their mayhem elsewhere.

December 30, 2011 at 5:39 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

We all know the fire code charges are BS.

Not only do city and county leaders not care about fire safety, as we saw with the fire sprinkler situation this past year, but they are not reasonably enforcing those codes to a consistent standard.

They made it clear that their position has been to not want to spend a taxable dime on public safety. Now, when someone has been hurt, they attempt to wrap themselves in the fire code.

Meanwhile, it sounds as though many of the violent acts related to this location have, in fact, occurred on property controlled by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department.

Perhaps we should shut them down.

Oh, wait a minute. I forgot: that won't accomplish anything.

Trying to run away, shut down, or blame someone will not immediately ensure the public safety. Likewise, it won't solve crime or provide for our nine residents who were shot on Christmas Morning.

We encourage our city and county leaders to stop blaming the victims and to start doing their jobs. The pastor and anyone else who sustained a loss as a result of someone's criminal actions are likely to be listed as among the victims of crime.

Focus our community on solutions. Express concern for those who were hurt. Stop blaming the victims.

We have yet to hear any reasonable update on the welfare of these people who were shot. When are we going to receive some kind of update on the progress of these criminal investigations? Instead, we see harassing bureaucracy involving fire code regulations.

Were there four doors available for exit before they "disqualified" one of them?

How is it that these people were in a building that was approved before? Did 23 toilets get up and walk away? Or, did city leaders once again collect fees without doing their job? Failure to inspect and accurately report the structure so that it complied with the codes for over 1,000 people?

Who in city or county government was allowing this unsafe structure to exist while providing a permit for those people to be there? It's not as though there was not permit. Instead, it was apparently improperly permitted before since a reinspection found the structure to be inadequate but with no evidence of significant changes. This political ploy has only succeeded in spread blame to the inspectors.

If the code is so important, then allowing those people to be in a building not to code says directly that the City/County inspectors contributed to these acts of violence through their negligence and professional failures.

Where is the city's admission of their responsibility to these people who were shot?

We still expect to see a direct and clear apology from the Mayor and the Chief of Police for their insults towards the victims of crime during recent news reports.

December 30, 2011 at 8:02 a.m.
ex_army65 said...

I understand the city's motivation to shut this place down, but the way they are going about it sounds to me like borderline harrassment. These places have to have fire inspections on a regular basis and if thats the case, then every single name on the bottom of the previous inspections who passed the place should be fired and investigated.

I'm not advocating the use of this facility as its being used, but I still think its wrong to try to go through the back door to "get them"

December 30, 2011 at 8:22 a.m.
Nosense said...

@328k - Where does anyone blame the victims??? So, instead of blaming the shooters who actually pulled the trigger it's the building inspectors fault??? Talk about shifting blame. LOL

December 30, 2011 at 8:33 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

By reducing the number of available exits without shutting the establishment down, the city may have actually increased the risk to the public.

How does cutting down on an avenue of escape support the fire code?

What is the city going to do for falsely signing inspection documents that those facilities were up to standard? Shouldn't someone be held accountable for that? By creating conditions that supported the commission of a crime through their own irresponsibility and negligence, City and County leaders have shown that they are guilty of the condition they have been trying to place on others since these crimes occurred. Not only did they contribute to setting conditions for crimes and hazards, but apparently they did so through lying and deceiving the public.

Either they were lying to us before, or they are undermining the public's trust in their safety inspections now.

The reality is that the primary blame for these crimes probably lies with the perpetrators. Those who shot someone, for instance. Trying to blame people who were in the area or associated with the area is not effective law enforcement or good public policy.

December 30, 2011 at 8:42 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

"Where does anyone blame the victims"? Review the news reports quoting the Mayor and the Chief of Police since these crimes occurred. Notice also that anyone who sustained a loss as a result of these incidents may be a victim of crime. Blaming the pastor, the landlord, the crowd of people there are all examples of blaming the victims. That has been the primary message sent by the Mayor and the Chief of Police. We reject it.

The city is trying to shift blame onto the people who operated the church, but in doing so they conducted themselves in a way that only increases their responsibility for contributing to the conditions that allowed the incident to take place.

Not only are they wrong, but they probably increased their liability and responsibility for what happened by pulling this stunt.

If the building inspector said before that the conditions were safe for people to be there; and now it's unsafe; and there were no changes made to the building he inspected then: yes, the inspector is among those who are to blame.

He's lying. Lying in a way that detracts from the prosecution of violent criminals is an unacceptable response from City and County Government.

Either he lied about the conditions that let a big crowd of people be there before; or, he's lying about the safety of the conditions now. Trying to say that doors and toilets are inadequate, and therefore the place should now be shut down, is a manipulative move that is obvious to everyone.

Using government power as a safety inspector to intimidate victims of crime is the opposite of what we expect from fire code enforcement. The city is trying to intimidate the churchgoers and their pastor into quitting. Intimidating victims through fire code inspections is unacceptable.

December 30, 2011 at 8:46 a.m.
holdout said...

Ever consider that the fire codes are different for a church than for a club? If Mosaic is being inspected as a church and then the city finds out that it is being used as a club instead what are they supposed to do? Continue inspecting as a church in the face of real evidence that it is not always a church? What kind of liability would that throw on the city? As far as I can see the only blame for any of this should attach directly to the people who were shooting into a crowd. Even so if the city did nothing and there was a tragedy there at a later time whether it had anything to do with shootings or not the city would be ripped apart in court and the same people who are being criticized now for doing something would be criticized for doing nothing.

December 30, 2011 at 9:39 a.m.

Either he was negligent in performing his duties before, in which case remove him from office due to gross incompetence, or he's being overzealous now, in which case remove him form office due to abuse of power.

That is the price of discretion, it results in a destruction of trust.

Holdout: I am aware of no such distinction in the laws. Can you please provide a reference for that contention of yours?

December 30, 2011 at 9:41 a.m.
chattanoggin said...

So now who should look into the inspectors who previously okay'd the venue w/o proper exits? There's been several cases in the news in recent years w/ fires and blocked/inadequate exits (just look up the band "Great White"). I'm sure they paid their inspection fees and could produce licenses to prove it. This is no way of addressing the issue. This is only a bureaucratic means of not addressing the real issue. I would have more faith in government if they stood their ground and said, "this is a threat to the community and we're closing it until further notice" and not some backdoor work-around. And why hasn't the lot ownership/ease of use been addressed before?

December 30, 2011 at 9:44 a.m.
sbm362 said...

Places like Fathom and Fire & Ice have the potential to seriously impact Chattanooga's tourism numbers and hospitality industry. Don't believe me? Check with the CVB. They are freaking out over finding a way to explain what happened on Christmas Eve to tour companies and potential groups.

These places need to stay out of the downtown area for good. The people and city of Chattanooga don't want or need this crap.

GTFO!

December 30, 2011 at 10:08 a.m.
inquiringmind said...

What about Rhythm and Brews? How many people, how many exits, how many bathrooms. Last I saw it was 1.

You may not like what they do in that "church" but this is a blatant abuse of government power. I'll bet a good lawyer can stop this.

Just wait folks, one of these days it will be your church that is shuttered. How many churches have bathrooms at the ratio of 1 bathroom per 73 people?? Let's walk down Market and Broad Streets and check each of the establishments.

Maybe they ought to raid Abba's House to check on the number of crappers per Sunday AM service? ?

December 30, 2011 at 11:23 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Trying to close the place by exploiting the fire code will later come back to haunt the city because the action is prejudicial and arbitrary. Local government needs to be prepared to prosecute felonies. They can't do that effectively and efficiently if they intimidate witnesses by abusing their governmental power. These actions are not only unfair, but they could have serious consequences for the City and County when it comes time to prosecute the perpetrators.

Any lawyer defending a perpetrator will only have to quote local officials in order to cite some condition that might discredit a witness later. This type of stunt on the part of the city might make it easier for the guilty to either go free or face fewer penalties later.

City and County officials would have done well to think before they spoke on this matter. They should have absolutely avoided blaming anyone when they spoke in public on this matter. We have heard nothing but how the city blames the pastor.

How well is that going to hold up when it comes time to prosecute someone who shot somebody else?

The City should immediately stop this nonsense of trying to use the fire code to close the place.

December 30, 2011 at 11:30 a.m.
Nosense said...

I think 328K should run for local office.

December 30, 2011 at 1:41 p.m.
holdout said...

The codes require a certain number of toilets per person. The number required are different for churches, nightclubs, restaurants, retail, etc. Same for exits. I don't know the numbers but they are different. He passed code as a church and then used the building as a nightclub. Once this was brought to the attention of the city there was no choice but to reinspect. Knowing that it was being used as a nightclub the city could not wait for the criminal process on the shootings to take place because that would be allowing a dangerous situation they were aware of to continue. If it passes code for a church and is only used as a church then the city would stop. No one can honestly call what was going on Christmas eve a church service. The court has since ruled that they can stay open for church but have to stop the clubbing.

December 30, 2011 at 6:26 p.m.

Holdout: So where can we review these codes?

But no, that wasn't a court ruling, that was an agreement between parties, a compromise as it were. A reasonable outcome, in lieu of a contested hearing, since it spares the argument over the enforcement process.

Not that the number of toilets would really matter, or do we think these shootings occurred because the lines were too long at the restrooms?

December 30, 2011 at 7:16 p.m.
rolando said...

Reid said, Those inspectors come in every year and we’ve never had these problems until now

Unfortunately, he is correct. The city uses that fire code violation business to close down those places they consider objectionable when all else fails. They use it indiscriminately and ignore other, more desirable businesses with similar violations.

The FD has ordered the back door exit closed, evidently because the parking lot is a cop lot. So only the front doors can be used; isn't there a requirement that all buildings must have a sufficient emergency exits in case the main ones are impassable due to fire or something? Sounds like a Catch-22 to me. So what happens when a cop parks close against the back door, effectively barricading the door? Sounds like that Shirtwaist Factory in NYC back in the 20s-30s to me...good way to get rid of the partiers...block the doors and torch the place...worked for Capone.

December 30, 2011 at 9:06 p.m.
barelysmart said...

Well... Congratulations to the gangs! You have been granted the authority to close down any business you want. Just show up OUTSIDE any place you like and start shooting. The government understands that they can't and won't come after you, they are terrified of you, and will target the weakest victim because it's just... easier that way. Besides, the Mayor is very busy seeking injuctions, fire code violations, and restraining orders instead of coming at you with any cojones whatsoever. It is much easier to target those trying to help rather than the actual criminals in any case! So, our friendly gang folk friends, do as you please. You have total immunity and support of the very skilled city "guvment". There are far more important matters than your targeting of kids trying not to be caught up in your gang lifestyle. Such as counting exits and toilets and whatnot. Or determining who is Christian enough to bring hope to a sector of the youth who has no one else on their side.
Also, I apologize in advance to the citizens of our beautiful city for the next hail of bullets. Hopefully then the cowardly leaders will not blame a building for the evil of young thugs who are right now laughing at the blame shifting old cowardly fools trying to appease the "good" church people instead of the "bad" church people. To our Dear Leaders: In 6 months your total ineptness will be evident even to the most stupid of your subjects.

December 30, 2011 at 9:43 p.m.
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