Franklin town board plans for 2016 projects
With a few fresh faces, the Franklin Board of Aldermen met last Saturday morning to make plans and set priorities for 2016.
Based on the board’s discussions, it appears aldermen want to focus on providing residents and tourists with an aesthetically appealing town with plenty of opportunities to get outside and enjoy it.
Mayor Bob Scott said littering was one of the top complaints he receives from constituents and asked board members for possible solutions.
As a lawyer, Alderman Joe Collins said he spends a lot of time in the courthouse where he sees people washing windows as part of their court-mandated community service. He suggested talking to court officials to see if those people could do litter pick up around town as community service.
“On a regular basis we could use that manpower for litter pick up,” he said.
As a proactive measure to prevent trash from piling up, new Alderman Brandon McMahan suggested a series of public service announcements and an education campaign. He said billboards and signs informing people that they can be fined for littering could help cut down on the problem. He said there could be a hotline number for people to call when they see someone littering.
Parking and speeding
Speeding on Main Street has been an annoyance for Mayor Scott for the last year. He has placed “Slow down” warning signs along the street to keep people from going over 20 miles her hour, but he doesn’t think it’s doing much good.
Collins said it sounded more like a police enforcement issue as opposed to a town board policy.
“Why should police be resistant to enforcing the speed limit on Main Street?” he asked.
Franklin Police Chief David Adams said officers have been monitoring the speed of vehicles on Main Street and found most vehicles are travelling 25 mph even though it may seem like they are going 35 to 40 mph.
“We’ve written a few tickets but most are warnings,” he said.
The board also discussed ideas for more downtown parking, including constructing a parking garage, but the price would probably be out of reach for the town. Collins said a parking garage could equal out to about $10,000 per parking space needed.
“One of my biggest pet peeves is business owners and employees parking on Main Street,” Scott said.
If business owners and employees would park off Main Street, Scott said residents and tourists would have more room to park.
Alderwoman Barbara McRae said needing more public parking is a good problem to have in Franklin because it meant more people were coming to town. However, she doesn’t think it’s a real problem at this point in time. She suggested the town put up signs to better direct people to public parking areas aside from the downtown street parking.
McMahan told the board about a “Walk Your City” program and smartphone application that can help make the town more pedestrian friendly while also directing tourists to specific attractions and businesses in town.
“There’s a lot of case studies on the website about how it’s been implemented,” he said. “It’s a great possibility for Franklin and a pretty low-cost option.”
While the town has put a lot of effort into beatification projects downtown, there’s always more that can be done.
Collins said one of his main goals is to spruce up the town square where so many events are held. He would like to see a more permanent stage structure instead of the temporary tent that is there now.
“Do we want to explore anything different on the square other than that funeral tent?” he asked. “It’s all we have downtown as far as communal space.”
Alderwoman Patti Abel agreed the tent was an eyesore on the otherwise beautiful downtown.
Collins said he would also like to see the town finally do something with the Whitmire property. The town purchased the 13 acres on the outskirts of downtown in 2005 for more than $1.5 million with plans to build a new municipal complex but later opted to renovate an existing building on Main Street. The town still owns the property but hasn’t come up with a plan of how it can be used.
Scott has said he’d like to see the property turned into a greenway or park for the town, but Collins is more in favor of selling the valuable property so it can be developed. The property was appraised at $2.15 million in 2008, but Collins said the town has no idea how much it’s worth today.
“I don’t think we should save it for a rainy day,” he said.
If the property is worth a good chunk of money and doesn’t fit the town’s needs, Collins suggested selling it and getting it back on the tax rolls.
Scott said he spoke to someone at the Highlands Biological Station who said a group of university students would volunteer to do a biological inventory of the property in the spring.
McRae said that was probably a good place to start. If some kind of rare species or something else significant is found on the property, the town may want to keep it.
Franklin is known for many of its popular downtown festivals, including Fourth of July, Pumpkin Fest, Veterans Day and Winter Wonderland. While the town sponsors those four events, downtown merchants and other groups also put on downtown events throughout the year like the Taste of Scotland and the New Year’s Ruby Drop.
But town board members say there can always be more festivals to bring people downtown. Town Manager Summer Woodard said the Franklin Garden Club was talking about doing a flower festival sometime in June while the downtown merchants plan to continue with the second annual Appalachian Heritage Festival. The merchants organized the inaugural event downtown last July to replace the 12th Franklin Folk Festival when the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County decided to take a year off.
McRae told the board that the association planned to have the Folk Festival this summer at the Cowee School because it’s more manageable for the volunteer organizers.
“Volunteers ran out of steam I think — it’s exhausting,” she said. “But merchants picked it back up and did something similar on Main Street.”
Abel suggested bringing more to downtown by offering an outside family movie night. She said the embankment behind town hall would make a perfect natural amphitheater and an ideal place to show a movie on a pop-up screen.
“I’m not saying the town should fund it, but we could help partner on it,” she said.
The board members will keep all these proposed ideas in mind as they head into this year’s budget season.