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The Rossville City Council approved a plan Monday night that Mayor Teddy Harris believes could give the community a North Shore vibe.
The elected officials unanimously voted to adopt stricter zoning ordinances for businesses near the state line off Rossville Boulevard, Chickamauga Avenue and McFarland Avenue. New codes ban gas stations, car dealerships, car washes, mechanic's shops, warehouses and fields of parking lots in the area.
Harris said the council had not adopted ordinance in more than 30 years. Some old rules on the books contradicted each other. Still others may not have been legal anymore. Overall, he said, the council hopes to make downtown look more attractive.
"It will change the character of downtown," he said.
Councilman Brad Buff, one of the main architects of the plan, said keeping such businesses out of the main corridors of the city will encourage more residents to walk around downtown. The council hopes the changes create a small-town feel. Its members don't want large lots and bright lights.
"We want to try to move our downtown in a direction of being a little more pedestrian-friendly," Buff said.
The plan applies to new buildings in the area zoned Commercial-One. Current structures are grandfathered in. It includes several other sweeping changes, including blocking future flea markets. The new ordinance allows for sidewalk or tent sales only if they are next to a physical store. The outdoor sales cannot stay up longer than two weeks in a year.
Developers also will need to submit site plans to the city for new projects. The local government also is hiring a codes enforcement officer — a new position for the city.
The plan puts a limit on the number of town homes attached to one main building at six. Apartments in the area must also be at least 900 square feet.
Parking lots, meanwhile, are supposed to be hidden from plain view. They should be next to a building, behind a building or in a garage. If a parking area is otherwise visible, the property owners will have to cover it with a fence, planters or some kind of landscaping. The same goes for a business' service or loading area.
When a builder puts up a new building, its width must cover at least 80 percent of the lot. A wall facing the road also must have a window or door at least every 20 feet. The main entrance of the building must face the street.
The first floor of a building must be at least 16 feet high, and in all the building cannot be taller than 52 feet. The front of the store must be covered with stone, brick, concrete, metal, glass or wood. Fences can no longer be chain link.
Signs can either sit flat against a building's wall or stick out perpendicular to the wall. If it's flat against the wall, the sign must sit between the building's first and second stories, no more than 2-1/2 feet high. If the sign sticks out from the building, it can be up to 8 square feet high. Every shop is limited to one sign.
Monday's vote goes back to last summer, when the city held community meetings and let residents sound off about what they disliked about the current look of downtown, said Elizabeth Wells, a contractor for Rossville focused on economic and community development. The Northwest Georgia Regional Commission consulted with city officials on a redevelopment plan, and urban planner Justin Tirsun consulted on the new ordinances.
"The city is going through a total rebranding," Wells said.
City officials hope they have momentum for downtown development. In July 2017, developers Steven Henry and Bobby Wilson bought the 27-acre Peerless Woolen Mill site on McFarland Avenue at auction for $137,500. They have not announced plans for the location, though they have commissioned consultants to give them ideas for the site's future.
Across Maple Street, the Walker County Development Authority is trying to sell the 330-square-foot former Coats American plant. The authority planned to unveil bids for the site in April, but the board put the bids on hold after potentially toxic oil spilled inside the plant two days before the advertised reveal date. Henry, a Catoosa County commissioner, was among those who initially bid for the building.
Also in April, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated parts of Rossville as an "opportunity zone," meaning investors will not have to pay capital gains taxes on money used to develop land in the area. (Investors first have to put their money in an "opportunity fund.")
"It's going to be good timing for everything," Harris said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.