published Thursday, August 9th, 2012

East Ridge weighs ban on extended-stay lodging

Pictured is the Cascade Motel in East Ridge on Wednesday.
Pictured is the Cascade Motel in East Ridge on Wednesday.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

IF YOU GO

East Ridge Council meets today at City Hall, 1517 Tombras Ave. The agenda session starts at 5:15 p.m., and the regular council meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

Poll
Should East Ridge ban extended-stay hotels?

As East Ridge officials prepare to ban extended-stay hotels, local hotel leaders say the new law won't help old problems with such establishments and will only discourage new hotels from setting up in town.

East Ridge City Council will vote tonight on a second reading of an ordinance that narrowly defines hotels as "temporary sleeping accommodations" that can be rented out for only 30 days at a time. The ban is expected to pass.

The city has a litany of grievances against several of the nine extended-stay hotels now operating in East Ridge — including crime, building codes violations and health hazards — but the new ordinance wouldn't actually affect any of them because they'll be grandfathered in after the ban passes.

In curbing the expansion of extended-stay hotels, officials also hope to curb what they say are chronic safety problems.

"This is probably something that should have been long ago," City Manager Tim Gobble said. "Better late than never."

The Crown Inn -- which had operated as extended stay — was condemned this spring because of bedbugs. In July it was followed by the Days Inn, which had to shut down one building while battling its own bedbug infestation.

Superior Creek Lodge has been one of the worst offenders, city officials say. East Ridge responders received 2,654 calls for service at the motel between the time the lodge was granted a business license in April 2006 and June 30, 2010 — on average, nearly twice a day, according to newspaper archives.

In July, a 20-year-old woman was arrested after leaving her toddler unattended in a filthy room at Superior Creek while she went to a bar. On Wednesday, a child fell through a broken railing on a second-story balcony at the hotel but was not seriously injured.

East Ridge is still embroiled in the lawsuit it filed in 2010 against Superior Creek Lodge, labeling it as a public nuisance.

Bill Breneman, spokesman for the East Ridge Hotel-Motel Council, a committee of the East Ridge Merchant's Association, said the ordinance will only affect future business, not the current "problem" spots. And the long ordinance -- with stipulations addressing details like the particular kind of kitchen appliances allowed -- could be a turn-off to new hotels, he said.

"We agree that we want the business community to be a clean, thriving place in our city. But what consequences will there be with what they're trying to here?" Breneman asked.

The 30-day span itself is drastic, he said. Though the city recently amended the ordinance to include a 90-day stay for those in need because of a disaster, Breneman said even that is not enough for many in a difficult situation.

"I have people at hotels whose homes have burned down, and they need space for a much longer period of time," he said. "That means we'd have to turn those people away and send them to Chattanooga. How smart is that?"

East Ridge officials have built their case on a study conducted by the Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency at the city's request. The study examined the impact the hotels had on East Ridge, on zoning specifics and at how other cities handled the issue.

Most major Tennessee cities have no specific regulations on extended-stay hotels, including Chattanooga, Knoxville and Nashville, according to the report. But other cities across the Southeast do, according to the report, and rely on special permitting and zoning procedures to restrict them.

Compared with most of those, East Ridge's proposed ordinance would be one of the strictest, according to the report.

"It's clear the current procedures we have in place are not working when you have all these hotels and the problems that have come with them, and the will of the people is clearly that the city do something," Gobble said.

Breneman said he understands what the city is trying to do, but East Ridge officials should have consulted local hoteliers first.

"A city has no value without a business community," he said. "It would be very nice, particularly in a city as small as ours, if the government would approach the business leaders and get their opinion before creating some law that directly impacts their business."

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