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Public hearing set for Franklin social district

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

The Town of Franklin will move forward with a public hearing for its proposed social district, despite inaction from the county on the town’s request to include three parcels of county property. 

At its Dec. 4 meeting the Franklin Town Council heard public comments from multiple people in support of the Main Street social district, including several downtown businesses.

The proposed district would run from Town Hall down both sides of Main Street to the intersection of Porter Street to include Lazy Hiker. It would also include Stewart Street and the connection alleyway, Phillips Street where it connects Stewart to Main, Iotla Street to the alleyway at Crabtree General Store.

When Graham Norris of Lazy Hiker spoke in support of the Franklin social district at Franklin’s December meeting, he cited the success of the social district in Sylva, where Lazy Hiker also has a location.

Sylva approved the ordinance for a social district in February 2022. The town started with a test period during which the social district was limited to Friday through Sunday. During this time the town studied both economic impact of the social district as well as its effects on policing and incident reports in the downtown area.

After six months of this limited social district, Sylva officials found no increase in police calls, and expanded the hours of the social district to seven days per week.

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“We’ve checked statistics for this time frame compared to last year’s same time frame and there’s no increase in police calls,” Sylva Police Chief Chris Hatton told the Sylva Town Board at the time. “We checked everything, including traffic accidents in the district.” 

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.

Cory McCall of Outdoor 76 also voiced his support for the social district. Like Norris, McCall has experience running a business within a social district. In Clayton, Georgia, where Outdoor 76 also has a location, there was a temporary social district held the during Thanksgiving weekend.

“We had nothing but a great experience, and I would expect the same thing in Franklin as well,” McCall said.

Joe Griffith, of 80s Flashback Weekend, said he thought a social district would benefit both the fundraising event and businesses on Main Street.

Because county commissioners did not take action on the town’s request to include the brick area adjacent to the courthouse and both Gazebo and Clock Tower squares in social district, the map for the proposed social district now excludes those areas. These areas are all county property. Among other businesses, this would likely exclude Las Margaritas from being included in the social district.

“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,” Owens said during the discussion with commissioners at their November meeting about including county property.

The public hearing will take place during the Jan. 2 Town Council meeting.  

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