published Thursday, September 12th, 2013

City Beat: City Council right to douse sprinkler ordinance

Hurray for Chris Anderson and the Chattanooga City Council for working to undo, or at least greatly water down, a really bad ordinance that never made sense.

Last week, Councilman Anderson proposed amending an ordinance forced into place by the previous council that would have required local nightclubs and music venues to install expensive sprinkler systems by the end of this year. Estimates for adding the sprinklers ranged from $40,000 to $120,000. For businesses that operate week to week, that amount of money could have put some of them out of business.

The reason the ordinance passed in the first place, earlier councilmen contended, was to bring us into compliance with a 2006 National Fire Protection Association code.

That code was put into place in large part as a reaction to a 2003 fire that took 100 lives in a Rhode Island nightclub. While that incident was indeed tragic, statistics show that the number of nightclub fire-related deaths in the U.S. can be counted on one hand. Actually, my research shows no fire deaths in nightclubs since 2003, but I could be missing something.

And it should be pointed out the Rhode Island club incident happened because the exit doors were chained shut and pyrotechnics were used illegally.

Most people paying attention believed the local ordinance was really pushed through to give officials a tool they could use to get rid of certain nightclubs, moves that would have been politically touchy.

I live across Brainerd Road from where one of those clubs was. It was horrible. An entire neighborhood was held hostage each weekend until 4 a.m. or so. I get why the council wanted to do something, but they were bringing a wrecking ball to get rid of a beehive with the sprinkler code.

And why just require this of comedy clubs and music venues but not larger places like the Tivoli Theatre and Memorial Auditorium?

There has been a tremendous amount of work, energy, discussion and planning in recent years in an effort to bring Chattanooga's nightlife, and in particular its live music scene, up to the level of our other amenities, so it would be a shame to kill that positive movement with an ill-advised law that throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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