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Code doesn’t require public restrooms in older downtown businesses


community issues





The City of Elizabethton is considering expanding the downtown business district. There are a variety of stores and shopping opportunities for all ages. However, locating a public restroom in downtown Elizabethton to use has been a concern of parents with small children for some time now.

In the 1960s, there were more public restrooms along East Elk Avenue and East E Streets in downtown Elizabethton than exist today. They were provided by the larger stores and businesses, such as Sterchi’s, Watson’s, J.C. Penney, Western Auto, Burgie Drug Store, C.B. Johnson Furniture Store, Montgomery Ward, Parks-Belk, H. S. Kress & Co., Eagles, Ritchie’s, Citizens Bank, Carter County Bank, Elizabethton Federal Savings Bank, Carter County Motor Company and the Trailways Bus Station, among others.

Many of these stores in downtown Elizabethton either have closed, been sold, moved to shopping centers or strip malls or have been torn down, such as the Trailways bus station. However, some remain in the former locations, such as Carter County Bank and Elizabethton Federal Savings Bank, which have been renovated.

Government facilities, including Elizabethton City Hall, the former Elizabethton Electric System building, the U.S. Post Office now occupied by the Elizabethton Public Library and Elizabethton Police Departments, the former Chamber of Commerce and Franklin Clinic, all located on Sycamore Street, provided public restrooms.

In essence, shopping in downtown Elizabethton today has taken on a new dimension from its heyday 54 years ago. Code requirements in providing public restroom facilities in the downtown business district have also changed.

According to City of Elizabethton Planning and Development Director Jon Hartman, and Chief Building Official Robert Montgomery, Section 2902.4 of the International Building Code and Section 403.4 of the International Plumbing Code (both of which the city has adopted) does require that all new businesses have restroom facilities.

“Customers, patrons and visitors shall be provided with public toilet facilities in structures and tenant spaces intended for public utilization. Again, this only applies to businesses in newly constructed buildings and does not apply to businesses in existing buildings which do not have public restroom facilities,” the two said.

There are, however, extenuating circumstances in which a business must allow the public to use whatever restroom facilities are available, even if they are employee-only.

In 2008, the Tennessee State Legislature adopted Public Chapter 864 titled the “Restroom Access Act.” This public act requires a business in existing buildings, which do not currently have public restrooms, to allow a member of the public to use their restroom facilities.

According to the Act, “A retail establishment that has a toilet facility for its employees shall allow a customer to use that facility during normal business hours if all of the following conditions are met:

(1) The customer requesting the use of the employee toilet facility suffers from an eligible medical condition or utilizes an ostomy device.

(2) Three (3) or more employees of the retail establishment are working at the time the customer requests use of the employee toilet facility.

(3) The retail establishment does not normally make a restroom available to the public.

(4) The employee toilet facility is not located in an area where providing access would create an obvious health or safety risk to the customer or an obvious security risk to the retail establishment.

(5) A public restroom is not immediately accessible to the customer.”

By law, these are the only requirements for older, existing buildings in downtown Elizabethton to open up their restrooms to the public. For additional information, contact Hartman or Montgomery at Elizabethton City Hall, telephone (423) 542-1508.

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