RINGGOLD, Ga. - City officials say they want Ringgold to recover quickly, but most importantly, they want the town to rebuild the right way.
At a called City Council meeting Tuesday, officials discussed working with owners and adding ordinances to regulate signs, facades and landscaping when rebuilding businesses destroyed by the tornado that devastated the town last week.
Most of the businesses were destroyed at the interchange of Highway 151 and Interstate 75, the main Ringgold exit on I-75.
David Dunn, a Ringgold resident and attorney, told council members they were at a "crossroads" and could choose an "ugly, unimaginative commercial strip" or "beautiful, creative" entrance to the city.
"The way you handle this situation is going to affect the future of Ringgold 50 years down the road," Dunn said.
Councilman Bill McMillon envisioned new codes similar to those used in Helen, Ga.; Townsend, Tenn.; and Asheville, N.C., to make the city "not look like every other exit."
Council members considered working with franchisees and owners at the hotels and fast food restaurants near the Interstate 75 interchange on Highway 151 to eliminate so-called "skyscraper signs," improve landscaping and work the downtown area's historic style into the rebuilt eateries.
Previous studies had suggested the city find a way to beautify and improve the Highway 151 corridor.
Mayor Joe Barger created a committee to explore the idea further and tentatively scheduled a follow-up meeting for Tuesday.
Barge recalled a visit to England, where local leaders told him they regretted not reworking streets and zoning after German bombs leveled blocks of towns during World War II. The mayor said Ringgold could seize the opportunity to rework areas of town, but said property owners would have to be sold on the idea even if it drove up the cost of rebuilding.
The mayor and others also stressed the need to develop a plan quickly, noting that some of the restaurants already appear to be taking steps toward reconstruction.
"It'd be good, but I've got my doubts," Barger said.
Dunn said that, in the long term, the businesses would see increased traffic if the area is more visually appealing to travelers and locals.
"We may run into some bean counters that are only looking at the least cost to rebuild, but we'll never know unless we try," he said.
All property owners are required to get permits to rebuild their buildings within the city. Inspectors review the plans to ensure they follow ordinances, including any new rules the council puts into place.
Councilman Randall Franks said the idea of finetuning the rebuilding process could be extended to residential areas on Guyler, Sparks, High and Short streets. He said the University of Georgia offers free architectural plans matching various time periods that the city could present to rebuilding residents.
Council members said the residents should not be required to use the plans, but Franks and others said they hoped the period architecture would be considered.
"It could be the prettiest neighborhood in town," he said.