Slums or no slums?
That will be the question of the day at this Thursday’s city council meeting where extended stays will be on the agenda once again. At the last meeting Ordinance 1009 which modifies the existing zoning ordinance specifically the sections dealing with Hotels and Motels passed on first reading.
In 2012 the city council passed an ordinance dealing with this issue and to many it appeared to effectively ban extended stay motels. What the 2012 ordinance actually did was ban people from staying at extended stays for more than 90 consecutive days. It essentially prohibited people from “living” at an extended stay hotel. This ordinance was passed with the condition that it would apply only to new extended stays or if any of the extended stays in existence were unoccupied for a period of time. When they reopened or regained occupancy the new provisions would apply.
This 90-day provision applies to all members of the party staying at the hotel. So you can’t check in under one member of the parties’ name and after 90 days switch to a different family member’s name. The group or family as a whole can only stay 90 days.
The proposed amendment keeps those provisions in place. It also adds teeth in the form of a punishment if that provision is broken. Hotel owners can be effectively shut down after violations occur by losing their occupancy permit. On the second occurrence hotel owners lose their occupancy permit for 30 days. At the third occurrence the permit will be pulled for 12 months.
The new ordinance also addresses the ability to check out at day 89 and check back in for 89 more days by placing a total limit on days stayed to 180 in a calendar year. This would allow business travelers to stay at a hotel 2-3 days per week every week for a year. It would allow construction workers who are coming in from out of town to stay 4 -5 days per week for close to a year while working on a big project. That is something the current construction crew working on Bass Pro has probably done.
When Councilman Larry Sewell made the motion to accept the proposed changes to the ordinance on first reading he also added that he wanted to give existing businesses two years to conform to the new regulations. This is something that I and most of you have been advocating for some time.
That addition would mean for the first time existing extended stays operating in East Ridge would have to clean up their act and make changes to the way they operate and conduct business. No longer could they function as quasi-apartments with daily eviction powers under the guise of a “hotel”. They will be required to provide hotel-owned furniture and fixtures. They will be required to have maid service.
The point of this ordinance isn’t to single out any one particular business. It’s meant to provide a guideline by which the city expects all extended stays to operate. This would include any new extended stays coming to the area. The ordinance is not so aggressive that an upscale extended stay would pass over East Ridge or judge the ordinance as burdensome.
The first reading passed with a vote of 3-0 as Councilmen Jacky Cagle and Denny Manning abstained from voting until they could further study the ordinance. I want to encourage everyone to contact them. To reach out and let them know that you want this ordinance to pass and to apply to everyone. Let them know that you think East Ridge is worth fighting for and this is something that is worth the effort.
While I typically believe that businesses thrive when unburdened by regulation, in this case the lack of regulation is what led to the mess we are in. This ordinance and its application to current grandfathered properties is the city’s first chance to “clean up” areas that are seen by many to be depressing blights on our community.
That’s why it needs your support.