The East Ridge City Council unanimously designated parts of the city as a new retail development district Thursday night in hopes of bringing new businesses and revenue.
"This is a big deal," Mayor Brent Lambert said. "Pending the commissioner's approval, this could change East Ridge as we know it."
A law passed by the Tennessee Legislature this summer allows cities to create a district up to 950 acres within 12 miles of a state border and one-half mile from an interstate exit with the purpose of building any attraction that will cost $20 million to build, draw 1 million visitors a year and pay the state back $2 million in tax revenue a year.
The city-approved 950-acre district is along Ringgold and Germantown roads, as well as around exit 1 on Interstate 75.
If the Tennessee commissioner of revenue approves the district, the city has 20 years to begin construction on a project and 30 years to complete the project. The provision allows East Ridge to keep 75 percent of the state sales tax in the district to entice businesses.
In other business, the council also unanimously appointed Kyle Hedrick of the Ramer and Hedrick law firm as the city's administrative hearing officer, a new position that will be able to enforce city codes more strictly.
Before Hedrick's appointment, the maximum fine for all city codes was $50 at City Court. Now, for violations at residential properties, Hedrick will be able to fine the violators $500 per violation. For violations at nonresidential properties (including apartments), he will be able to fine the violators $500 per day per violation.
"How much are you going to pay him?" resident Dot Guinn shouted when City Manager Tim Gobble was introducing the new position. "If you're going to pay him $100,000 a year, we don't want him."
The mayor responded that $18,000 has been budgeted for Hedrick's salary.
The council also passed, 3-2, an ordinance allowing businesses that don't qualify to sell beer to ask the council to make an exception.
The current law says that beer cannot be sold within 250 feet of any school, residence, church or public gathering place, which restricts most major roads.
If the three grocery stores in town weren't grandfathered in, the mayor said they wouldn't be able to sell beer.
Councilman Denny Manning said there are already the three grocery stores, so he didn't think there needed to be any more stores selling beer.
"There's already three places, so people can buy beer if they want it," he said. "I don't think we need more."
But, the mayor argued, no new grocery stores will come to East Ridge if the law isn't changed.
"If a grocery store isn't allowed to sell beer, they won't come," he said. "That's a fact."
Manning and Jim Bethune voted against the ordinance, while the rest of the council voted for it.
Contact staff writer Andrew Pantazi at 423-757-6467 or apantazi@times freepress.com. Follow him at twitter.com/APantazi.