Rocky Top OKs smoking ban in city playgrounds

Smoking in city park playgrounds will be prohibited in Rocky Top by a new ordinance approved on first reading by the City Council during its recent April meeting.

The ordinance still must be presented in a public hearing and approved on second reading, but already has gotten preliminary approval on a unanimous vote by the council.

Under a state law passed by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed by Gov. Bill Lee in March 2020, local governments now have the authority to ban smoking in public playground areas – but only with at least a two-thirds majority of the local governing board approving the measure.

The request for Rocky Top to consider the playground smoking ordinance came from ASAP, the Anderson County group that works to limit drug and alcohol abuse in the area.

Under the Rocky Top ordinance, it would be a violation for “any person to smoke on the grounds of any city-owned playground,” including indoor and outdoor facilities.

The ordinance defines smoking as “the burning of a tobacco product, a hemp product, or any other drug or substance, but does not include the use of a vapor product.”

Further, the ordinance defines the “grounds” as “the entire real property upon which a playground is located, as determined by the property lot lines, including the parking areas and any permanent or temporary restroom facilities.”

The Norris City Council recently considered adopting a similar ordinance, but tabled the proposal after some council members objected, saying they had no knowledge of any problems the city was having with smoking in playground areas.

In other business:

The council voted to approve, on first reading, an amended ordinance creating the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee to increase the number of members on the committee to seven from the present five.

Under the new ordinance, which is still subject to a public hearing and passage on second reading, the committee must include at least two city residents and one council member, but could have up to four members who are not residents of Rocky Top.

Those non-resident members, however, would have to be people with “a passion and desire to see recreation grow in the city of Rocky Top.”

All members would have to be approved by a majority vote of the City Council, and would serve three-year terms – except for the City Council member, whose term would be two years or less, coordinating with when that member’s council term ends.

The council approved on final reading, after a public hearing, an ordinance to rezone a tract with a building on South Main Street that formerly was used as a Covenant Health doctor’s office from its current M-1 Light Industrial District designation to C-2 Tourist Commercial District.

The building and its 3.9 acre site are owned by Covenant Health’s parent company, the Fortress Corp. of Knoxville, which wants to sell it, City Manager Michael Foster said during the March City Council meeting, when the ordinance was introduced and passed on first reading.

Sitting just south of the intersection of South Main Street and Industrial Park Road, the former medical clinic has been closed since late 2019, and Covenant has no plans to reopen it as a medical facility, Foster said.

Fortress plans to market the property to anyone who might want to open a medical office or urgent-care facility, or who might just need it for general office space, Foster said.