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Franklin studies upgrades to 1950s zoning laws

Unlike most town and county governments in Western North Carolina, Franklin’s elected leaders had the foresight more than five decades ago to pass zoning regulations.

But, just like its counterparts, Franklin is still struggling with the issue of land management. The town’s zoning laws have gone largely unchanged since being approved in July 1951, though they do now include separate rules governing subdivisions and signs.

But while such thorny issues as fish smoking and curing, sauerkraut processing, horseshoeing and barrel making (all businesses forbidden within the town’s limits) are covered, more modern commercial and residential zoning aspects are not.

“It’s a nightmare,” said Town Planner Mike Grubermann. “The world has changed, but nobody updated the code frequently, and some of the updates that were made don’t coordinate.”

Also, because the town formulated an official list of some 70 types of businesses that are excluded from operating within its borders — primarily because of noise or smell — commercial endeavors not banned are automatically allowed, Grubermann said.


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Shaping the future

Having some safeguards are critical to Franklin’s economic future, said Studio 441 Artistic Photography co-owner Danita Stoudemire. She and her business partner selected the store’s site along U.S. 441 last year because it is in a high visibility area that is free of rundown buildings.

“If it was dumpy no one would want to stop,” Stoudemire said, adding that she still also believes any new zoning regulations must respect a business owners’ right to make a living in the manner that they feel is best.

Town leaders, in an attempt to balance the variety of viewpoints on land management, last year formed a 12-member committee. The members, a cross section of the town’s residents, developed “principles of growth” to help guide Franklin’s land-management updates and urged the town to adopt the following 10 concepts:

• Encourage mixed land uses to promote “connectivity, walkability and a sense of community.” That means allowing different forms of development to take place in certain districts, and to promote transportation alternatives such as walking, bicycling and public transit.

• Take advantage of compact building design so that the town grows vertically rather than horizontally.

• Create a range of housing opportunities.

• Develop “walkable” neighborhoods.

• Work to foster a distinctive, attractive community, which includes protecting historic buildings.

• Preserve open space, natural beauty and critical environmental areas.

• Funnel new development into existing infrastructure to help preserve open spaces and improve efficiency in delivering town services.

• Provide a variety of transportation choices.

• Make its zoning regulations simple and straightforward so that everyone involved easily understands them.

• Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration.

The town board later approved the suggestions as guiding concepts.


Moving forward

Now Franklin leaders are taking that next step to develop a Unified Development Ordinance and remove conflicting rules. They also want to make the town’s zoning regulations intelligible for those who must abide by them.

“The idea is that your ordinances tie in to each other,” said Town Administrator Mike Decker, who once served as Macon County’s planner.

A set of regulations are currently being developed by members of the Extraterritorial Jurisdiction board, the planning board and the Principals of Growth board. Decker said he would like to see the Unified Development Ordinance formally adopted by the town board prior to the November election since current members initiated the process.

The draft includes better delineating districts so that it is clear what can and can’t be done by residents and business owners, adding more levels to allow for special-use cases and requiring developers to hold “compatibility meetings” so that residents will know what is intended in their neighborhoods.

“I hope at the end of this people will see that the new code will preserve the good things about Franklin but allow for some flexibility,” Decker said. “I think it will give people more involvement in how the town changes.”

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