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No county property for proposed Franklin Social District

This map shows where the social district would exist in Franklin. Donated photo This map shows where the social district would exist in Franklin. Donated photo

Without discussion or stated reasoning, Macon County commissioners decided not to allow Franklin to use county property for its proposed social district. 

“We feel good that we’re not going to lose control, and it will actually be a benefit to the town and the community,” said Franklin Councilman David Culpepper.

Per legislation enacted in 2021, a social district allows for consumption of on-street and outdoor consumption of alcohol under controlled parameters. Those include a specific and delineated geographic area where the alcohol may be consumed and the requirement that it was sold by a participating ABC-permitted establishment. The social district must have signage indicating where people are allowed to drink alcohol, which businesses are participating and during what times the social district is active. The district must also have branded cups that are permitted outdoors. There are currently 38 municipalities that have social districts in the state with Sylva being the closest one to Franklin.

In October, the Franklin Town Council voted to move forward with a potential social district and instructed Town Manager Amie Owens to start the process. The proposed district area would run from Town Hall down both sides of Main Street to the intersection of Porter Street to include Lazy Hiker Brewing. Stewart Street and the connection alleyway, Phillips Street where it connects Stewart to Main, Iotla Street to the alleyway at Crabtree General Store, the brick area adjacent to the courthouse, and both Gazebo and Clock Tower squares were all set to be included in the social district.

According to town documents, the rationale for inclusion of the area adjacent to the courthouse is due to Las Margaritas being part of the same plaza and “individuals may wish to take their drinks with them and then would need to be able to connect to the social district.” Both Gazebo and Clock Tower Squares are natural connectors from Iotla Phillips Streets and offer multiple seating options.

Town Hall is part of the district for the public restroom access, but alcohol would not be allowed in any other part of the Town Hall building, parking areas or lawn.

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The proposed hours of operation are noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday. At all other times, unless a permit has been obtained for a special event, consumption of alcohol on sidewalks and in public areas would still be prohibited. The goal of the social district is to attract citizens and visitors to the downtown leading to increased foot-traffic and provide new revenue opportunities for restaurants and retail establishments. Also, to develop new opportunities for social events such as festivals, music and food trucks.

Because the town leases the gazebo from the county and the lease agreement states that alcohol consumption is not allowed on the property, the town needed to get county approval to amend the lease. Additionally, Clock Tower Square is county property and the county needed to approve its use in the social district.

At the Nov. 14 meeting of the Macon County Commissioners, Manager Owens and Councilman Culpepper made a presentation about the proposed social district and requested use of the county properties.

“This wasn’t done with no reservations from the town council,” said Culpepper. “We had the folks from Sylva come over and actually talk to us about social districts. Of course, the concerns, drunk people laying in the street was the first red flag that came up. People expressed those concerns, and we feel confident that this is not what that is.” 

Commissioner Gary Shields asked about costs to create the social district. Owens said that the only costs associated with the social district include signage and purchasing the branded cups that people can use within the district.

“A big concern in Sylva was having to have increased police presence, and that has turned out to not come true,” Culpepper told the board. “They’re not having any impact on their downtown police force.” 

“This is a big hurdle, obstacle, step, whichever you wish to refer to it as, because if you can’t have alcohol in the two main squares, then the only place anybody would be able to sit would be on the sidewalk,” said Owens during the discussion with commissioners.

Town businesses including Lazy Hiker, Gracious Plates and Slanted Windows have all been advocates of the social district.

Due to a lack of motion from any county commissioner, the item was tabled.

Commissioners did not discuss the social district or the use of county property; however, Chairman Paul Higdon took the opportunity of having representatives from town present to air his concerns about the sidewalk situation downtown, and what he called “the sorry excuse we have for a curb on Main Street.” 

“We have got to do something from the Funeral Home to the top of town hill,” said Higdon. “Part of that is controlled by the county, and you and I have gone over this more than once, part of it is controlled by the town. We have got to come together.”

Higdon asked County Manager Derek Roland to bring a proposal before the board of commissioners that includes a proposed design and budget for downtown property including both town and county property.

“I’m inviting y’all to join us to see what we can do from the funeral home to the top of town hill with our streets — handrails, designated ingress, egress down to the street,” said Higdon. “Whatever we need to do. I’m going to put Derek in charge of that and hopefully we can come to a resolution.” 

Even without the county property there are still options for the social district. Both the gazebo property and Clock Tower Square can be marked off as part of the area where alcohol is not allowed.

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