The fate of a new restaurant in Ringgold is up in the air after the city council recently denied a variance request pertaining the appearance of the building.
In a March 27 public hearing, local businessman Emerson Russell requested two variances from the council: the first to allow for a metal exterior on the building of a new restaurant he's having built, and the second asking for permission to erect a sign larger than what the city ordinance allows.
Following a long back and forth with the mayor and council, Russell wound up one for two in his requests.
The requests were related to a new Farm to Fork restaurant planned next to the Hampton Inn hotel off Battlefield Parkway, which was also a Emerson Properties project.
The existing Farm to Fork at 118 Remco Shops Lane is one of the city's most popular eateries, and Russell stated he's been working with the owners of the restaurant to build a newer version right off the 350 exit.
"It's going to be a very decorative building," Russell said. "I think it's going to be a real good looking building for Catoosa County and for Ringgold. Part of the building is going to be metal. We obtained a building permit with the understanding that we were going to ask for this variance. We're spending a lot of money, a little over a $1.75 million on this building and its contents. It's a 10,000-square-foot restaurant with outdoor seating on the side of the Hampton Inn there."
Mayor Nick Millwood and all the members of the council welcome the idea of the new restaurant, but having metal on portions or the back facade of a new building would be against the city's ordinance.
"I'm so happy that this particular business is moving up there because if there's anything I hear in our community, it's the need for a nice, sit-down, steakhouse type restaurant, so I'm happy you're looking at trying to put this type of business there," Millwood said.
Councilwoman Sara Clark added that she too is in favor of the eatery as long as it falls in line with current building structures.
"As a former member of planning and zoning, when we made these metal building rules, it was for a reason. ... It was to have all the buildings in Ringgold that you could see from roads like Battlefield Parkway look appealing," Clark said.
Renderings of the front of the building included very appealing siding and nice landscape. Clark asked if Russell and his group could make the back of the building look the same as the front so it would comply with the ordinance and be more inviting to people who would see it while traveling along Battlefield Parkway.
"We could, but it's cost prohibitive for us to do that, you're talking about another $50,000 or more," Russell said. "It's going to be a very good-looking building and something that everybody is going to be very proud of once you go up there."
Russell said there are landscaping plans in place to cover up a lot of the back of the building.
"We will have some trees and stuff up there to soften that look up, plus the Farm to Fork sign is going to take away from a lot of that," Russell said. "Everybody also needs to keep in mind that I'm putting the Spring Hill Suites up there behind the Hampton Inn, so you want everything on that road to look first-class, which is what we're trying to do. On the back side of it, there are freezers and things that are going to be on the back that we'll need to cover up. There will eventually be another building that will block part of the view from the interstate anyway. In the future, probably 70 to 80 percent of the building won't be able to be seen from Battlefield Parkway."
Councilman Jake Haynes admitted he too is excited about the restaurant, but that it should be closer to what the ordinance calls for.
"We want it to look a little more finished than just a metal building," Haynes said. "We want to work with you. ... It's a great-looking building and we're happy it's coming. We're willing to compromise on some things, but we want it to look better."
Russell said adding vinyl siding to the building would degrade its value, which prompted Haynes to suggest adding some of the hardy board-type siding similar to what is planned for the front entrance of the building.
"That'd mean spending another $50,000 to $60,000, and I'm just not willing to do that," Russell said. "I'll just stop the project. When you pull up to this building, you're going to be going in the front door. ... You don't go in the back door. From a business standpoint, when people pull up there to the building, you want it to be inviting, which is what it's going to be. If we downgrade that, it's going to downgrade the operation. It's going to have a full sit-down bar, meeting room, outdoor areas. I'm already about $400,000 over budget, and I'm just not willing to put much more into this thing."
Towards the end of the discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Terry Crawford suggested holding off on a vote so Russell's design team could take some time to possibly adjust some of the details for the problem areas of the building, but Russell insisted on a vote being taken.
"I'd rather y'all just go ahead and do it (vote)," he said.
Councilman Larry Black motioned to approve the request and added that he trusts Russell when he says he'll make the building as presentable as possible.
"Based on his past track record, I would like to make the motion that we approve the variance tonight, and we can make it contingent on him dressing that up and blocking the view from Battlefield Parkway," Black said.
"You've got my word," Russell replied. "We're not going to leave it bare. We want it to be warm and pleasing to people."
The variance request was denied by a 3-2 vote, with Black and Crawford in favor of the request while Clark, Haynes, and Randall Franks voted no.
Russell was less than pleased with the outcome.
"I plan on deannexing all my properties from the city, thank you," he said before walking out of the courtroom.
Even though Russell had already left, the council still took the time to vote on the sign variance request for the restaurant and unanimously approved allowing a sign that is 16 square feet larger than what the ordinance allows.
"In case Mr. Russell decides that he re-thinks this and wants to do something different, I move that we do allow that variance for the sign," Clark said. "We really have a long range plan for Ringgold, and this end of Battlefield Parkway is going to showcase where Ringgold is going. I just think that needs to be dressed up more than just a metal building. It needs to look better than a metal building. I'm looking to the future, and anything you put up there that meets those standards we've set would just look so much better."