The East Ridge Planning Commission met Monday night at City Hall giving its blessing on a rezoning request by the developers of Bass Pro Shops and recommending an amendment to a city ordinance pertaining to extended stay motels.
Ethan Wood, a principal with Exit 1 LLC, the entity which is developing the Bass Pro Shops and Jordan Crossing adjacent to Camp Jordan, asked the commission to rezone an 11-acre parcel on the northeast side of the development from residential to commercial. About eight acres of the property will be used as a detention pond, Wood said. The remaining three acres is above the flood-way and will be used in the development for potential retail space and parking.
The request was approved unanimously and Mayor Brent Lambert, who is also the chairman of the commission, said the rezoning will go before the City Council for a vote possibly on April 28.
The Commission then heard from Fire Marshal Kenny Custer, who along with City Attorney Hal North has helped the Council draft an ordinance governing extended stay motels.
In September of 2015 East Ridge condemned Superior Creek Lodge citing “life safety” issues. City officials contended that portions of the four buildings were structurally unsound and that it potentially could collapse under its own weight. About 750 residents were forced to leave Superior Creek Lodge. The owner sold the buildings to a company headquartered in Atlanta which is in the process of rehabilitating the buildings and has stated they will open an extended stay motel under the Budgetel brand.
City officials characterized Superior Creek Lodge as an ad hoc apartment complex. City leaders now want to craft an ordinance for extended stay motels that will limit the time a person or persons can stay there in a given year. The draft of Ordinance 922 states that a person or persons cannot stay more than 90 consecutive days in an extended stay motel in a given year. The Planning Commission grappled with that issue on Tuesday.
Discussion ensued giving scenarios of a person travelling on business. Wood, who stayed after conducting his business, told the commission that construction workers on his job site have been staying in area motels for many months. The ordinance should take into account this kind of activity.
The commission discussed how the city would keep track of who was staying in the extended stay motel and for how long. Mayor Lambert suggested the city obtain a weekly list from Budgetel of its guests. Commissioner Eric Avans suggested that Budgetel supply a quarterly audit of guests to the city.
Attorney North advised the commission that generally these types of facilities will not self report. He said the city will have to monitor the occupancy of the extended stay motels in order to enforce the rules. He reminded the commission that the city’s codes enforcement department is understaffed and that it would be a burden to take on the responsibility of monitoring the coming and going of guests.
“There’s a lot of ‘what-ifs’ in this situation,” Fire Marshal Custer said. “We need to make the best effort to make sure we don’t end up with the same situation we had before. This is a begging to clean this up.”
Custer said the draft ordinance contains provisions to sanction extended stay motels that don’t comply with the rules. He said if a business violates the rules, allowing someone to stay beyond the stated amount of days, the city will revoke its certificate of occupancy for 30 days on the second offense and an entire year for a subsequent violation.
Mayor Lambert suggested amending the draft ordinance to state that a person could not stay any longer than 180 days in a calendar year in an extended stay motel. The panel agreed to that language and Attorney North will include that in a draft that will go before the City Council.
Attorney North suggested that the commission invite the new owners of Budgetel to the next planning commission meeting to get their ideas on how to regulate the length of stay of guests, and other concerns.
“I want to clarify that we are not focusing on one facility,” North said of the discussions. “This applies to any extended stay motel.”
Commissioner Larry Sewell asked North if going forward the city could enforce these rules on other motels that were “grandfathered” under the existing ordinance. Sewell suggested giving motels such as Cascades and the Waverly Motel two years in which to comply with the proposed more stringent standards on length of stay.
North told the commission that the city could attempt such a move but that it could result in a law suit.
“We must make sure to not arbitrarily target an individual business,” he said.