New West Columbia ordinance targets 'nuisance businesses'

WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - An ordinance recently passed in West Columbia will allow the city to crack down on what it calls "nuisance businesses" to improve the quality of living for those in the surrounding area.

The ordinance will allow the city to conduct a formal review of any business that receives numerous community complaints or requires an excessive number of visits from local law enforcement.

During the review, the city will provide the business owner with a baseline example of how other similar businesses in town are functioning properly. If the owner refuses to institute changes following the review, the ordinance will allow the city to revoke its business license.

"We've worked on this problem for a couple years," West Columbia Councilman Tem Miles said. "We have a lot of good businesses in West Columbia but we also have some outliers who are consistently conducting their businesses in a way that's a danger to public safety."

The ordinance applies to any kind of business throughout the city, but Miles said several hotels on McSwain Drive along Interstate 26 have proved problematic for the city in recent years.

"There are many other hotels in that same area that operate just fine and don't generate this kind of problem," he said. "So if they can do it, I don't understand why these few hotels can't."

Miles said America's Best Value Inn and West Columbia Extended Stay have drained resources in the city, especially local law enforcement. Police records from the West Columbia Police Department indicate in 2017, 71 arrests took place at America's Best Value Inn and 20 arrests took place at West Columbia Extended Stay.

Between 2015 and 2017, 228 people were arrested between the two hotels.

"You have a diminished quality of life for people who live around it and that affects people's desire to live in that area," Miles said. "That affects their desire to keep their homes up and that affects the overall value of the neighborhood and the homes around there."

Jeanette Hornsby lives in the Westwood Acres subdivision, neighboring the hotels on McSwain Drive. She said the area has had an increased issue with crime in recent years, something she attributes to the clientele of the hotels.

"We've had more people walking through the neighborhood who don't live here looking suspicious," she said. "We've had everything from small thefts to some major robberies."

Hornsby said there have been instances where police attempt to arrest someone at the hotel, only to have them flee and run into the backyards of nearby homeowners.

"There was one instance where this guy didn't have any clothes on," she said. "So that was a really unsettling event."

The neighborhood has an active crime watch group and Hornsby said the new ordinance is a step in the right direction toward curbing the nearby crime.

"We're really happy to hear about this because we've been talking for years about how to stop this crime," she said. "If people start thinking or hearing this area is riddled with crime, they may not want to live here and that affects us all."

Miles said some constituents are still skeptical and worry the city won't actually enforce the ordinance.

"We're looking out for the quality of life of our citizens," Miles said. "This gives us the ability to do that."

Miles said the ordinance is currently being enforced.

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