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Franklin prioritizes 2017 projects

Every year before budget time, the Franklin Board of Aldermen likes to get together and figure out what the town’s priorities should be for the coming year.

The town definitely has its hands full with a number of worthy projects it wants to get done, but there’s only so much money in the budget each year to make it happen. 

The board is currently looking at several different streetscaping and parking proposals for the downtown corridor, planning to adopt a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian improvement plan, and looking to put together a long-term sidewalk improvement plan. 

Town Manager Summer Woodward said the board decided last October to accept proposals for streetscaping and parking changes on Main Street, which is currently a two-lane, one-way thoroughfare. The board has three options to consider — Vaughn and Melton Engineering’s proposal to study making Main Street one lane, McGill Engineering’s streetscaping proposal to look at several different options for increasing Main Street parking and a comprehensive parking study completed by JM Teague Engineering in 2013. 

Vaughn and Melton’s proposal to study making Main Street a one-lane street in order to add additional angled and parallel parking spots would cost $11,000. The proposal also includes a phase 2 and phase 3 for streetscaping improvements that would cost more than $50,000. 

McGill’s proposal would cost $15,000 and the Teague proposal, which includes many of the same kinds of recommendations, has already been paid for but the projects just haven’t been implemented. 

Before making any final decisions, Scott suggested a test run of some of the proposed changes to see how it would work in realty. 

“Summer and I met with three DOT engineers — they were quite OK with us trying the one lane idea,” Scott said. 

With DOT’s assistance, the town can use traffic cones and temporary paint to redraw the lanes on Main Street to simulate what it would be like to have one lane of traffic with angled parking on one side of the street and parallel spots on the other side.  

The board was in agreement to try out the changes on Main Street soon — before the tourism season gets underway. 

“Well you don’t know unless you try — there’s no better way to find out,” said Alderman Barbara McRae. 

The town board is also still in limbo about how to best utilize the Whitmire property — a 13-acre tract on the corner of East Main Street and Highlands Road. The town purchased the land 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.

Different groups have come before the town board with ideas of how to turn the property into an outdoor adventure park or to create some type of public and private partnership to keep the land available for public use but no action has been taken.  

“The real issue the board has to consider is do we sell it and let the purchaser make the call on what it is used for or do we — in some degree or fashion — have some control over what we want it to be used for?” asked Alderman Joe Collins during the retreat. 

Collins and Alderman Billy Mashburn have fallen more on the side of selling it to a private developer, but the rest of the board isn’t convinced that’s the best option. 

Since commercial property hasn’t been moving that well in Franklin recently, McRae said she would like to see the town determine the best use of the property — whether it’s a park, land for a civic center or another structure beneficial to the town. 

“My mind isn’t going toward park,” Collins said. “If we built a civic center it would have to have substantial support from the private industry because it can become very costly.”

Alderman Adam Kimsey suggested reaching out to the county to see if the commissioners have any interest in the property or interest in working with the town to develop something on the property. 

“I don’t think it would be a bad idea to talk to the county or the EDC about it,” he said.  

If she had a million dollars to do whatever she wanted with the property, McRae said, she would like to see the property developed as mixed commercial and residential with some parking and other aesthetically pleasing elements to spruce up that side of town. 

“We should get something moving, whether we put it up for sale or do a study for the best use,” said Alderman Brandon McMahan.

McRae said there was an agency set up by the UNC School of Government to do exactly that — a study on what the best use would be and how the town can partner with private entities to fund it. 

The board agreed to contact the School of Government to come make a presentation before the town gets into the 2017-18 budget process. 

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