published Thursday, July 26th, 2012

East Ridge council eyes hot-button issues

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    East Ridge Vice Mayor Larry Sewell
    Staff File Photo

Poll
Should East Ridge ban extended-stay hotels?

East Ridge council members could be setting themselves up for a marathon meeting after packing a sizable number of hot-button issues into their meeting agenda tonight.

A smoking ban, a major land purchase, and law blocking new extended-stay hotels are just a few items on the lengthy agenda of what will be the council's only July meeting.

"I think it's going to be a very long night," said Vice Mayor Larry Sewell.

Citizens will have a chance to address council members before the voting begins. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at 1517 Tombras Avenue.

Among the issues expected to come up tonight:

TOBACCO BAN

(Second and final vote)

If council votes in favor of this ban, all city-owned property -- including parks, public safety stations and City Hall -- would be considered tobacco-free.

Though all the councilmen but Denny Manning previously voted for a full ban, there seems to be a recent shift in thinking after several said they received criticism that they were "going too far with government," Sewell said.

"I've decided I don't have a problem if we have a designated space," said Sewell, who previously voted for a full ban.

Councilman Darwin Branam, who has also supported a full ban, says he hasn't changed his mind.

"There have only been a few people whom I've talked to who have been against it, and they were smokers of course," Branam said.

BIG LAND BUY

(First and only vote)

The city is hoping to enter into a real estate deal between the state and a local development group in hopes of seeing a retail site take shape on some land adjoining Camp Jordan.

The group, Wolftever Development, cannot buy the 27-acre parcel of Interstate 75 directly from the state, so East Ridge would essentially become the middle man in the deal. East Ridge has already sunk about $10,000 into the property through the appraisal process and related legal fees.

Councilman Jim Bethune said he is wary of the deal and said he wants "strong proof that the deal will go through before we get ourselves wrapped up in this."

The appraisal shows the property is valued at $107,000. More than half of the property was deemed "undevelop-able" because it is too swampy, appraisals showed.

"The way I look at it, we spent all this money to look into these studies and engineering, and he's willing to pay us the land's price plus what we put into it," said Sewell. "We need to do it."

EXTENDED STAY HOTELS

(First of two votes)

To curb problems with extended-stay hotels, the city is weighing an ordinance that would redefine hotels and keep them from becoming extended-stay lodging.

East Ridge has a couple of extended-stay hotels within is boundaries, and officials have long claimed they attract crime and other problems. East Ridge is still embroiled in a nuisance abatement lawsuit filed in 2010 against Superior Creek Lodge.

"I know people need to have a place to stay and live, but we really have to do something about it," Sewell said.

The amendment would delete "permanent guests or tenants" from the definition of a hotel, and a maximum occupancy of 30 days would be incorporated.

Manning said he is against the amendment because it restricts the freedom of businesses.

"It's up to the motel owners to decide how they want to run them," he said.

The amendment would not apply to current extended-stay hotels, which would be grandfathered in, officials say.

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