The fireworks industry is one step closer to igniting in East Ridge after City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to form its own Municipal Planning Commission.
The commission now takes on the tasks the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission previously performed for the city: Analyzing and voting on recommendations from a city planning agency, usually involving zoning and building codes.
First on the East Ridge commission's list: an ordinance to regulate the sale of fireworks in East Ridge.
City Manager Tim Gobble said at least three companies are interested in opening retail space in East Ridge and have been monitoring the regulation process closely.
Council members pushed to form their own commission after the Regional Planning Commission decided Aug. 8 to defer action on the fireworks ordinance, a move Mayor Brent Lambert called "obstructionist."
Earlier this year, Tennessee legislators approved fireworks sales for East Ridge starting July 1, 2012.
The city plans to allow fireworks sales at exit 1 off Interstate 75 and in the Ringgold Road corridor, areas that Regional Planning Commission member Tim Boyd said are too densely populated to allow the sale of what he has called "explosives, not fireworks," according to newspaper archives.
Many residents and business owners remain uneasy about the fireworks business in the city.
"Am I for them forming their own municipal board? Yes," said Marc Gravitt, real estate broker and president of the East Ridge Revitalization Association. "But I have not met any citizens out here that are for this. In my opinion, it could be a deterrent for the city of East Ridge for obtaining new retail businesses."
Gravitt said he also was concerned about the sustainability of the industry, noting that sales were likely to boom only before New Year's Eve and 4th of July.
Gobble said he could not provide exact figures for projected tax revenue from the stores, but that it is well into six figures.
Robert Stahl, president of the East Ridge Merchant's Association, said his group doesn't comment on political issues, but he said he's found mixed feelings about the ordinance among businesses.
"There's a good deal of concern about the buildings being gaudy, which we realize East Ridge City Council is addressing," he said. "But many realize it is going to bring much-needed sales tax revenue."
Aside from safety concerns, "gaudiness" is the most common worry voiced by residents.
Gobble insisted residents didn't need to worry about giant, flashing neon signs and warehouse-type buildings.
"They won't be what is typically seen in Marion County and Bradley County. We have an ordinance that would restrict those kinds of signs," he said.
A photo of one interested business shows a brick facade, with large glass windows, an awning and purple lettering bearing the company's name above the doors.
"When I show people they say, 'Oh that's not what I was thinking at all.' It's better than most buildings on Ringgold Road."
Members of the commission will be Lambert, Councilman Jim Bethune and East Ridge residents Kevin Wright, Ann Pruett and Shan Daffron.
Lambert said the group's first meeting will be before the end of the month and the ordinance should be set for vote by October.