Franklin approves residential loop for commercial zoning
The Franklin Town Board unanimously approved a petition to rezone a small piece of property off Clyde Street at its meeting Oct. 6, but the public comment preceding that decision was far from unanimous.
“My main concern is if it does become commercial, things may change and some of the improvements we’ve done to our home will start to fade,” Miguel Santos, 15, told the board, “and I would just really appreciate it if it would stay residential for the peace of our neighborhood and our home.”
Though only a teenager, Santos gave comment for his family because the rest of them don’t speak English. While a portion of the 1.14-acre property surrounding the loop road Traces Place now sits empty, part of the property currently houses six modular homes mostly occupied by people whose first language is Spanish. The families own the homes but not the land they sit on, and they rent the land month-to-month without a written lease.
“They have worked extremely hard with home improvements, and my concern is if it’s changed from residential to commercial we are losing a very affordable ownership that these families have had,” said Trisha Severin, a Franklin resident and friend of the families, at the public hearing.
However, the property owners said, the families don’t have anything to worry about.
“We have absolutely no plans to do anything different with that property than what’s there,” said Karl Gillespie, who owns the portion of the 1.14 acres that houses the homes. “We feel like we have a great group of people that rents those trailer lots.”
The reason for the rezoning request, said Gillespie and Donald Holland, who owns the remainder of the property, is simply to make the property’s zoning consistent with that surrounding it. The properties abutting the parcels in question are predominantly zoned commercial.
Holland has had offers to use his portion of the property, located at the end of the road and without any homes on it, for commercial purposes such as parking trucks, but so far he hasn’t legally been allowed to use it that way.
“I would sure appreciate a little help,” Holland told the town board. “If I could change it to commercial, maybe it will help me get some rental property in there and I can clean it up a little bit.”
Originally, the planning board had recommended denying the rezoning because the one-lane gravel road that runs through the property was considered too narrow to accommodate commercial use. But the owners have since changed their application to include upgrading to a two-lane, 16-foot-wide road using the 30-foot right-of-way on the current road.
“Being that was the main concern, that alleviated a lot of the concern the planning board had,” said Justin Setser, town planner.
Town Attorney John Henning told the board that they could only approve or deny the property for the purposes allowed in Commercial Two zoning, not make provisions about how the property could or could not be used after rezoning. That happens only when going through a conditional use permit process.
But, Henning said, “That’s not the process we wound up with even though that’s where Mr. Setser and myself thought it probably should go.”
The board then approved the rezoning with little follow-up discussion. The approval, board members said afterward, was based on consideration of what would be best for the town in the long run, economically speaking.
“We have to take a view of what’s right for town planning. We can’t judge by what he [Gillespie] says he’s going to do or what everyone else says they’re going to do,” said Alderwoman Barbara McRae, who has served on the town planning board in the past.
“The way you have to think is not the way I like to think,” she added.
The main question before the board, agreed Alderwoman Joyce Handley, was whether rezoning would hurt or help the tax base.
“It is surrounded on three sides by commercial property and it just kind of evens up the commercial without really doing any harm to the residential area,” added Vice Mayor Verlin Curtis.
It’s probably a safe bet to believe Gillespie when he says he won’t evict the families, said Handley, who knows Gillespie, but of course there’s no guarantee for how a future owner might handle the property.
“At this point I believe what they’re going to do is what they say they’re going to do, but if they sell it a new owner wouldn’t be stuck with the same commitment,” Handley said.
Rezoning approved at Highlands Road
In addition to rezoning a small piece of property off Clyde Street, Franklin aldermen also approved a second parcel for rezoning at their Oct. 6 meeting. A 3.2-acre parcel on Highlands Road, formerly residential, was approved for Commercial Three zoning, one step below industrial.
Two residents from the neighborhood delivered comment requesting a forested buffer zone between their properties and any development that might occur there. Town Planner Justin Setser advised the board they couldn’t institute a buffer greater than the 10-foot one automatically required but said that the hill at the property edge would create a natural buffer.
Aldermen voted unanimously for the rezoning, citing benefits to the tax base.
“That one space is sitting empty there on Highlands road, and they can’t do anything with it,” Alderwoman Joyce Handley said.