Controversial fire code doused for 2 months

Controversial fire code doused for 2 months

February 23rd, 2011 by Ellis Smith in News

Sprinkler fitter Derek Swanson, with Mission Fire Sprinkler LLC, installs a sprinkler head in the Strauss Building which is being renovated to be a restaurant in downtown Chattanooga.

City Council members debated, but ultimately deferred for two months a controversial ordinance forcing legally defined "nightclubs" to install costly sprinkler systems.

Councilman Peter Murphy proposed the postponement to study the economic consequences of the measure, which some bar owners have said would put them out of business.

Under the proposal, bars with live entertainment would have a choice to stop serving alcohol after 11 p.m. and reduce occupancy to under 100 or pay tens of thousands of dollars to install a sprinkler system within the next three years.

"The crux of this is public safety," Councilwoman Sally Robinson said Tuesday. "If you open up your business to the public, that does open up the door to regulation."

Michael Alfano, owner of the Comedy Catch, was jubilant after the ordinance was deferred.

"I feel we've been given an opportunity to prove the severity of our economic hardship under this proposed rule," he said. "This gives us time to regroup, and gives them time to think."

Council members Robinson, Andraé McGary andDeborah Scott voted against deferring the new sprinkler rules, but lost 5-3.

Council members Murphy, Jack Benson, Pam Ladd and Russell Gilbert have strongly opposed the measure from the beginning. Council Chairman Manny Rico, who voted in favor of the proposal last week after the council's first reading of the ordinance, switched his vote to accept deferment at the last second on Tuesday.

Brian Hobbs, a manager for liquor distributor Horizon Wine and Spirits, said that 75 percent of his bar customers were locally owned, small businesses.

"These quotes on sprinkler systems, ranging from $50,000 to $100,000, are more than what some of these people make in a year," he said. "The ones who don't own their own building, why are they going to invest that much into something they don't even own?"

Like the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for updates all day long.