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Board split on future of Franklin property

fr whitmireThe town of Franklin has been sitting on about 13 acres of pristine greenway space for about 12 years with no concrete plans for how to utilize it.

The board of aldermen has just recently begun to talk about the possibilities for the so-called Whitmire property, but members are split on how it should be used. Aldermen Billy Mashburn and Joe Collins want to explore the option of selling the property to a developer while Mayor Bob Scott and the other aldermen would like to see it developed into a recreational park. 

The town purchased the tract of land back in 2004 for $1.6 million with the intention of building a new government building, but the value of the land and the desire to keep town offices downtown essentially killed the plan. 

Jimbo Ledford and several other outdoor enthusiasts in Franklin recently presented the town with a preliminary recreational plan for the Whitmire property. Ledford told the board that the property — located on the corner of East Main Street and Highlands Road — would be perfect for a multi-use town park. 

“This park could focus on a variety of outdoor recreational options for individual sports enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels,” Ledford said. “While there are multiple team sport facilities in the area, this would be the first park of this type.”

The land could have a variety of recreational uses, including walking and running trails, an all-wheel skate park, racquetball courts, disc golf, mountain biking trails, a bouldering wall and an open air theater for entertainment.

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Ledford said creating a town park would encourage residents to lead a more healthy, active lifestyle and attract more families and young professionals to locate to Franklin. He also pointed out that decreasing chronic diseases associated with obesity and recruiting more primary care physicians have been top priorities in Macon County’s State of the County annual report. 

“Improving the livability of the town will help retain and recruit those types of professionals,” he said. “It will provide a sense of community and help the local economy.”

Having a park with trails right in the heart of town will also tie in perfectly with the town’s efforts to make the area more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Franklin was one of 10 towns in North Carolina to receive a $36,000 grant from the Department of Transportation last year to create a bicycle and pedestrian plan. The plan is still in the early stages of planning with the project team collecting public input. 

With the Whitmire property located near downtown and the greenway, Ledford said, now is the perfect time to link the town’s assets together. 

“This is about the preservation of town-owned property,” Ledford said. “Someone was smart enough to buy it — why would we get rid of it when there’s not another piece of property like this in the town of Franklin?”

Ledford was eager to move forward with getting the ball rolling to create a park and asked what the next step should be in the process. 

Alderman Joe Collins is the town’s recreation liaison but the town doesn’t have a recreation department or even a committee to take on these types of projects. Scott said the town could work toward establishing a committee to explore the possibilities. 

“I think this is premature,” Mashburn said.

Collins agreed. 

“This certainly is one concept that looks good, but the board really needs to sit down and figure out the best use for the land, and we haven’t done that yet.”

Alderwoman Patti Abel said she loved the idea for a recreational park, but agreed the board needed to explore all possibilities before making a final decision. 

Aldermen Brandon McMahan and Adam Kimsey both loved the idea of using the property for a multi-use park and asked that a recreation committee be formed. Mashburn said he wanted to wait and see what other options present themselves for the property. 

“How much longer do we wait for other options to arise?” McMahan asked.

“If you’ll hold on a minute, you’ll see,” Mashburn replied. 

Town Attorney John Henning Jr. said developers had presented a number of plans to the town throughout the years.  

Ledford asked what he could do before the next town meeting to try to convince the board to pursue a recreation park. 

Scott suggested the board hold a work session to discuss the issue in more detail and look into parks and recreation funding options before the next meeting. 

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