At the City Council meeting on Thursday night, Walmart Neighborhood Market was granted a beer variance.
It appeared from how quickly this was moved onto the agenda (it skipped the agenda session completely) that the developer was completely unaware of East Ridge’s beer ordinance. It was revealed in the course of the meeting that our ordinance in East Ridge is unique, in that it prohibits retailers from selling beer within 250 feet of a RESIDENCE.
Most other cities _ insert City of Chattanooga here _ have a distance requirement from the building selling beer to the property line of church, playground, school … but not from residences.
The developer relayed to the City Council that the ability to obtain a beer permit was vital to the project. Now, from my uninformed audience seat, it read as the developer may have been caught with his pants down and that it may have been a sticking point in the contract allowing Walmart to back out of the multi-million dollar deal with the developer.
Let me say I have no way of knowing any of this. I am just going by both what was said and what was not. Also, based off the show of force in the audience from the developer, you could see that obtaining a beer permit wasn’t a small detail by any stretch of the imagination.
During the discussion portion of the meeting, Councilman Jackie Cagle pointed out that he could understand how the developer may have missed the provision concerning “residences.” It was buried deep in the city’s paperwork on page 6 and part of it was listed under “Staff Only” and they might not have read that section.
Mayor Brent Lambert stated that he felt this was something that needed to be addressed, as more and more businesses come to the city to take advantage of Bass Pro and the revitalization happening, this will just become a more frequent problem.
Mr. Mayor, I couldn’t agree more.
This city is on the verge of experiencing a boon. If this city is to grow properly it needs to be prepared for the growth. That means fostering an environment that encourages business and making sure our rules are clear, concise and easy to follow. Things shouldn’t be hidden on page 6 that are pretty important … like not building a multi-million dollar grocery store near a residential neighborhood because it will put the kibosh on beer sales.
I feel we need to go further. Let’s discuss the method of receiving a variance. Variances are common practices in which businesses or property owners get permission from the city to violate an ordinance for some particular reason. Speedway and Walmart Neighborhood Market both received variances to get exceptions to the beer ordinances.
Recently a couple wanting to open a Mexican restaurant in the old Ryan’s building applied for a variance. While they could legally obtain a liquor license from the state to sell tequila and margaritas, they could not sell beer without the approval of the Council. You see, the Ryan’s building is too close to a nearby church. The council, when the variance came up, decided that before they made a decision they wanted to hear from the “offended party” and rightfully so.
I completely understand the Mayor’s point on this issue. If your going to issue an exception to a rule it would be nice to have the church or residence that is too close give their blessing for the exception. The problem was that this couple traveled a long way multiple times only to be told to come back because no one at the church could be reached. After traveling to the council a few times they eventually dropped their permit application.
I honestly have no earthly idea why they dropped the application. I know they stated there lease agreement gave them only so much time to back out if they couldn’t get a variance, or had some other technical problem. Maybe they had to take advantage of that before the variance was received. It’s quite possible some other issue caused them to change their plans.
My point is that if that is how we are going to handle these situations let’s be proactive about it. If a company asks for a variance let’s have some direction at the agenda session to city staff to make sure the offended party is notified and told to show up if they take issue. Let’s not hinder business development because we have created so much red tape the business feels overwhelmed or decides its not a worthy pursuit.
Small businesses and entrepreneurs today already have tons of decisions to make when they start out. Do they form an ever-popular LLC to protect their personal assets, or do they form a corporation because in Tennessee they are both taxed the same but a corporation is $250 a year cheaper? Ever try to open a business bank account and go down the fee schedule? Ever look into rates charged by a credit card processor? What about all the rules involved in hiring employees or the small tree worth of paperwork you are required to post for employees to read.
No, your boss doesn’t have that giant poster in the break room just to remind you of what minimum wage is, its required to be there by law.
With all of these weighty decisions, issues, and problems do we want to make choosing East Ridge one of them? Well, in my book, a quick trip up and down Ringgold Road would say “no.”
The idea is to grow the tax base. Let’s do what we can to make it as easy as possible for commercial developers to fill their vacant space. Let’s make East Ridge the place to do business, the place businesses don’t just choose to be located, but the place they WANT TO BE located.
As I’ve said before, this city has everything going for it. A business located in East Ridge should have the phrase “conveniently located in East Ridge” printed on everything. This town is centrally located and it has the Border Region Act primed for investment and growth. Let’s make that growth a no-brainer. Let’s make it as easy a decision for the small business owner as we do for Walmart and Bass Pro.
In addition to having a plan of action for handling variances, and streamlining archaic laws, let’s create a small business guide that we can give to prospective businesses that are interested in our town. This guide should lay out all the codes and ordinances that would apply to businesses. Maybe we include in this guide a list of other places that provide small business resources so if they run into a road block they have someone to call.
Let’s make Ringgold Road _ from the tunnel to the Georgia line _ a place of thriving commerce. A place where business can feel secure, and know that by choosing East Ridge they aren’t just getting an excellent location they are getting a community, they are getting support, they are getting encouragement. They are family.