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Staff photo by Emily Crisman / Owners of the Budgetel Inn and Suites in East Ridge said they hope to rezone the property and convert the extended-stay hotel into an apartment complex.

Development group Lodge of Chattanooga, including local attorney John Anderson, is attempting to rezone property where a Budgetel extended stay hotel is located in East Ridge, with plans to convert the property into apartments.

Some city officials feel the developer's plans are insufficient, while others say any change to the property is preferable to the continued operation of the low-rent hotel where crime and panhandling have been persistent problems.

The property, at 1410 Mack Smith Road, is now zoned commercial and bordered by multifamily residential property on the west, commercial property on the south and I-75 on the north and east.

Amish Patel, operations director of the Budgetel Inn and Suites and part of the Lodge of Chattanooga ownership group, told the East Ridge Planning Commission that the group spent two years and "a good amount of funds" to renovate the former Superior Creek Lodge and get it in compliance with East Ridge building codes after purchasing the property in January 2016.

Co-owner Harry Patel told the planning commission that the name of the proposed apartment complex would be Vivo Living, which is also the name of the company the property owners are partnering with to convert the hotel rooms into studio apartments. The company has converted more than 20 hotels to "studio luxury apartments," he said.

"We're trying to make it look different from what it is right now," Harry Patel said of the four buildings on the 4.58-acre property.

He said the group plans to add amenities such as a recreational area with pool tables, a gym, a barbecue area and a self-serve coffee station.

Sixty hotel rooms will be converted to 30 apartments measuring 512 square feet. Another 129 apartments will each measure 690 square feet, including balcony space, and 78 of the units will each measure 250 square feet, Harry Patel said.

Each apartment would include a washer and dryer, a TV and a full kitchen with a stove, a full-size refrigerator and a microwave. Tenants will have the option to bring their own furniture or they can choose to pay $4,000 for a furnished apartment, he said.

Unlike guests at the extended-stay hotel, apartment tenants will be required to undergo a background check and sign a 12-month lease.

(READ MORE: After two years of delays, East Ridge Budgetel Inn & Suites now open)

Rents will range from $1,200 to $1,750 per month, including cable and Wi-Fi. Now, the rooms at the Budgetel are $35 per night or $200-$250 a week, the lowest-cost rooms in East Ridge, he said.

The property will be managed by an Atlanta-based management group, not by the Lodge of Chattanooga ownership group, Harry Patel said.

City council members voted unanimously last week to delay a vote to rezone the property from commercial to multifamily residential in order to have more time to consider the proposal.

"I like what I see," council member Esther Helton said, adding that apartments are appealing to people who don't want the responsibility of owning a home. "It would be worth taking a step back and letting people process it a little bit further."

Mayor Brian Williams said he wanted more specific information from the developers, including how much money they plan to invest in the property and the construction schedule.

"How do you transition from the current state to the future state while you have occupants in there?" Williams said. "I see where you want to be but I don't see the road map."

The planning commission on Sept. 9 recommended denial of the rezoning.

"My only concern with it is purely economic," Planning Commissioner Casey Tuggle said. "It's a major plot of land for us, for the Border Region Development District, and it's currently zoned commercial."

Developers of projects within the Border Region district can use a portion of state sales taxes collected to pay for infrastructure and other building costs under the state's Border Region Retail Tourism Development Act. Unlike a hotel, an apartment complex would not qualify for those benefits, and the city would not receive any sales tax revenue from apartments.

Budgetel Inn and Suites was in the news earlier this year when its owners agreed to rent up to 100 rooms to the city of Chattanooga to house members of the city's homeless population. Plans were halted when media coverage informed East Ridge officials of the plan.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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