West Columbia City Council passes nuisance ordinance to target businesses that tolerate or create pr
West Columbia, SC (Paul Kirby) The city council of West Columbia gave the last reading Monday evening to a new ordinance that they feel will make a difference in dealing with a few businesses that have caused or tolerated problems and bad behavior for some time. The new ordinance, dubbed the “Nuisance Business Ordinance” by city leaders won’t particularly target a specific business, rather it will look at the call for services, especially calls to the police at a business, against how often those same services are needed or called for at businesses of a similar type.
With West Columbia’s new ordinance in place, the number of times that police officers have to respond to one specific motel,hotel, or bar could be compared to calls for the police to respond to other establishments of that type. If a business needs those services much more often than their competitor, they could be looked at and may at some point be labeled a nuisance.
In speaking about this ordinance before its final passage, the hotels and motels on McSwain Drive came up. McSwain Drive is the frontage road to I-26 that runs off Sunset Boulevard toward Leaphart Road. Just as it begins, The American Inns and Suites, and America’s Best Value Inn, both budget lodging establishments, face McSwain. Although city officials have been hesitant to call specific business names, this type of place often rent to people who bring with them social issues that don’t necessarily have to be associated with people of a lower financial status.
One frequent guest of a motel on McSwain said in a short interview that it’s not poor people who are the problem, it’s poor people who just don’t behave themselves. “Some of us can’t afford no better,” he told a reporter from The Ledger. “If I make some money on a job, I can get me a room here, take a shower, watch cable t.v. for a few days and it’s something I can afford. I don’t sell no drugs, I don’t fight, I don’t bring that kind of stuff here, but a lot of people do. It makes us all look bad.” He said since he’s frequented the motel he prefers most often, he’s seen police officers there many times. “I aint never seen nobody shot or nothing, but they come cause trouble. Somebodies fighting with their old lady or they’ll be buying and selling dope out the rooms or in the parking lot,” he concluded.
Business owners argue that the problems aren’t their fault. They say that they rent to whoever has the money without discriminating. If people are fighting, or they see something going on that’s illegal, they call the police. On the other hand. municipal leaders in the area say that’s not always the case. They say that properties do rent to anyone, often even if they’re well-known trouble makers. They say that those businesses could impose and enforce more trespass warnings, add private security officers, install better lighting outside, and high-quality security systems with cameras that work and record so that the miscreants would know they are always being watched. Just doing things like looking closer at IDs to ensure they’re real, really making an effort to record the license tags of guest vehicles, and simply following through with threats to notify the police quickly and get rid of anyone who’s starting trouble, can and does make a huge difference in the long term.
Chief Kevin Cornett, chief of the Springdale Police Department who’s also dealt with these issues, especially at motels in the past, was once quoted as saying, “We can’t arrest ourselves out of these types of problems.” His department has been working with the property owners in the past to rid that town of the problem people who make all of the guests who can only afford a modest rent bad. When business owners complain that these steps are expensive and shouldn’t be their responsibility, officers point out that less trouble and fewer police cars sitting at a property bring more guest increasing occupancy. Chief Cornett also pointed out some time ago that the improved behavior of guests also translates into rooms that don’t have as much wear and tear or maintenance problems. “People that behave themselves aren’t as hard on their rooms,” Cornett said during a previous interview.
Most cities in the Midlands have or are in the process of dealing with similar issues. In some cases, after a tremendous number of calls for service for especially police officers, some municipalities like the City of Columbia, have pulled the business licenses of establishments and shut them down. In West Columbia, they don’t want things to get that far, but the new ordinance gives them the ability to deal with a business if problems arise at a disproportionate rate to business of a similar trade or service.