Commission to look at 1 percent hotel tax hike

A proposed 1 percent hike in the county hotel/motel tax and concerns from a county resident that an application to rezone his U.S. 411 South property was wrongly denied were the most discussed items during the Dec. 9 commission workshop.

Herb Handly, vice president of the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the proposal that will be discussed in the commission meeting is to raise the hotel/motel tax by 1 percent to 5 percent and dedicate those funds to buying 32 acres adjacent to the Visitor’s Center property in Townsend. “It’s the last piece of large tract of land in Townsend.”

Handly said there have been suggestions from the community about how to develop the land but that the bureau wanted it to be something that would maintain the rural character of the area and also provide an economic impact for the community. “One possibility could be a fair ground, one suggestion an equestrian venue, one idea was to have an arts community,” he said.

Tom Talley said his parents started the Tally Ho Inn in Townsend, he and his wife operated it and now his children manage it now. “I feel this tax increase is going to damage our business significantly. It puts us in a competitive situation that’s not very tenable, especially with Sevier County, who has a 3 percent hotel/motel tax,” he said.

Talley said he realized other cities’ hotel/motel taxes are going to come up in discussions. “Several cities have 5 percent hotel/motel taxes but most rely on commercial traffic where people put their extra 5 percent and deduct it at the end of the year,” he said. “Better than 90 percent of our business comes from mom and pop and kids here to vacation. These people are very budget conscious. Be aware of that, you’re not dealing with travelers willing to pull 5 percent out of their pocket.”

Don Headrick, co-owner Highland Manor Inn asked that commissioners consider the burden they put on hotel/motel owners in the county when they raise the hotel/motel tax. “This is a very competitive business. Like my wife just said, we’ve been in business 20- something years. People ask what taxes are before they buy the room,” he said. “We can’t finance county government. This is supposed to be a stimulus tax and stimulate economy, not support county as a whole.”

During input for items not on the agenda near the end of the workshop, Jesus Yanez told commissioners he has lived in Blount County since 1993 and owned property at 4427 U.S. Highway 411 South for seven years. In May of 2007, he said he appeared for rezoning of the property and commissioners denied it.

“In September, my next door neighbor, you approved his application. I really feel my application has not been treated fairly. I’d like to ask you to maybe reconsider your decision. I’ve been talking with Mr. Fields. He wasn’t able to explain why you made a different decision on my neighbor’s property. I really feel my application hasn’t been treated fair,” he said.

Yanez said his neighbors at 4421 U.S. 411 South are Terry and Diana Landers. Commissioner Kenneth Melton asked Roger Fields with Blount County Planning to address the situation. “It came from planning with a recommendation not to approve,” he said.

Commissioner Ron French asked him to report back to the commission with information from the file about why the rezoning was denied.

“Mr. Fields, I wonder if you could provide us with information regarding this piece of property and the Landers piece of property,” French said. “I’d like to look at the process the planning commission used and see what separates these two pieces of property where one was approved and one wasn’t.”

Yanez said he submitted an application to be rezoned from R-1 to RAC in May of 2007 and was turned down. Fields said commercial zoning is “wide open” in terms of what can be opened and RAC is a Rural Arterial Corridor is more restricted. “It’s designed for arteries that run out beyond urban growth boundaries,” he said.

Both items will be on the agenda at the Dec. 18 County Commission meeting.

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