In a meeting that lasted over three hours, the East Ridge City Council on Thursday night approved a partial smoking ban for city property and okayed a land deal at Camp Jordan Park.
An ordinance to ban the use of tobacco on all property owned by the city was amended from the one that had been passed on first reading. Council members Denny Manning and Jim Bethune suggested amending the ordinance to allow use of tobacco in designated areas. Mr. Bethune was concerned that the city could not tell people they couldn’t smoke on city property, but he said that they do have the right to say it is not allowed inside a building.
Councilman Darwin Branam added that in a survey of area businesses that he had found that Volkswagen, Channel 9 News, the Chattanooga Times Free Press and BlueCrossBlue Shield all ban tobacco on their properties. The council quizzed Stump Martin, director of the parks and recreation department, about the policies at other athletic facilities. They were told that for the most part, they have no smoking policies. City Manager Tim Gobble told them that he preferred the total ban on all property because he expects there will continue to be cigarette butts littering the ground, and he questioned what type of receptacle would be used in a parking lot. He said, too, a ban would address health issues, set a good example for children and could potentially reduce insurance rates.
The vote to approve the amended ordinance was passed three to two, with Denny Manning and Darwin Branam voting no. The final law as passed has two provisions. It will only be lawful on city-owned property for anyone to smoke or use tobacco type products on asphalt parking areas and only in the section of those parking lots that the city manager designates. The second part of the ban prohibits smoking or the use of tobacco inside vehicles or equipment that is owned, operated or leased by the city.
In an effort to reduce crime, East Ridge voted on the first reading of an ordinance to eliminate extended stay hotels/motels within the city limits. Mr. Gobble had planners from the Regional Planning Agency study what other cities throughout Tennessee have done about this type of facility. The RPA made a recommendation to the East Ridge planning commission to restrict any further extended stay hotels. The planning commission then advised the city council of its decision.
There are nine of these dwellings out of a total of around 14-15 hotels/motels in East Ridge. City Attorney John Anderson told the council that the ones already with that designation would be “grandfathered” in. They would be allowed to continue operating as long as there is no termination of use, of 180 days. If that occurs, they would lose the designation of extended stay. He also told them that change in ownership would not change the status of the zoning. This ordinance also deletes the phrase “permanent guests or tenants” from the definition of hotel and motel, and specifies a maximum occupancy period of 30 days.
This ordinance passed on first reading, with four council members voting “yes” and Councilman Manning saying that he was going “to pass his vote to the city manager.” After several attempts to elicit his vote, Attorney Anderson told him “you don’t have the power to delegate your vote” and recommended that the council consider his vote as an abstention.
John Healey, representing Wolftever Company, LLC, was at the meeting to answer questions from the council members before they voted to enter into a contract for a land sale with the development firm. The city hopes to have a new retail center that will provide income through taxes at that location. The plan for the transaction is Wolftever will put money for the purchase in an escrow account. East Ridge will buy the land from the state of Tennessee with that money and will then sell the land to the development company without ever having to use city funds. This will all occur on the same day. The property consists of 26.5 acres all with frontage on I-75. There also is an option to buy the adjacent fire hall if needed.
The purchasers will pay the actual costs including the price of the land, and all costs related to the sale that has been incurred by the city such as attorney fees and closing costs. The total ball-park price of the deal is estimated to be around $135,000 but there is no cap on the price.
Mr. Healey said there are a lot of hurdles to develop this property since it is in a floodway and a portion will not be usable for building. Detention reservoirs will need to be built to catch water and prevent flooding, but his company is willing to take that risk believing that it will be profitable. Contrary to standard development, Wolftever has not found pre-development tenants but are confident they will be able to. The only thing being required of the city is that the land be re-zoned before the sale takes place.
Mr. Anderson told the council that he thought the contract was one sided in favor of the city. He said the only obligation is that the city must co-operate. There will be no financial burden on East Ridge. In his opinion it is a reasonable and fair contract.
Mayor Brent Lambert said this project has been in the works since 2010 and that it is “on the way to being something positive for the city of East Ridge—an economic development shot in the arm.” He said that he was very pleased that the city is now in this position.
In new business, the council voted to rent the Camp Jordan Arena to Crestwood Garden Club partnering with the Hamilton County Master Gardeners, for a Garden Expo to be held April 20-21, 2013. Because the garden club does so much to beautify the city, the council will provide the arena at a 50 percent rate of $1,200 for the two-day rental.
A Disk Golf Course will be built at Camp Jordon with $10,000 from the Capital Project Fund. According to Stump Martin director of parks and recreation, this is the fastest growing sport with all age groups. He said this course would have 19 holes as something a little extra, and is planned to be difficult. He referred to it as “the Augusta of disk golf.” Use of the course will be free to the public but it will be rented out for tournaments. It can be built quickly with the anticipated finish time of eight weeks.
Mark Dempsey, manager of the Rite Aid Pharmacy at 4350 Ringgold Road, came to the council requesting a variance to sell off-premise beer. The location of the store is in a commercial zone but is only 90 feet from a church. The current ordinance requires 250 feet spacing, however Mr. Anderson said that an ordinance passed last fall would allow them to decide variances on a case by case basis. The vote was three in favor and two opposed. The vote will need to have a second reading to be passed.
A resolution was approved for East Ridge to participate in the Hamilton County Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan that gives the fire department liability protection when operating outside of East Ridge. The employees take their protection whereever they go. The city also voted to participate in the TML Risk Management Pool. This grant program will reimburse the city for 50 percent of the cost for safety vests for police.
It was also approved to give 100 square feet of land on Frawley Avenue to WWTA for use of a pumping station. It was approved with the stipulation that the pumping station will always have capacity to service East Ridge, and if the time comes that it is no longer used, the property would return to the city.
The council considered a request to re-zone land at 1406 Prater Road from General Commercial to Light Industrial to accommodate a micro-brewery. As recommended by the planning commission, because the building has no ventilation, the request was denied.