Council to address local use of drones

Franklin N.C. Town Hall photo by Vickie Carpenter

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

Although much business was discussed and approved at the June 6, 6 p.m., Town of Franklin Council meeting, it was an issue raised by member Stacy Guffey at the meeting’s close that generated concern. 

“Imagine this,” he told the council and the public, “that it’s a nice spring afternoon and you’re walking downtown on Main Street. There are families with children, seniors, and they are enjoying downtown, and suddenly, right at face level, there is a drone. There were so many people who thought the drone was going to hit them in the face. It would fly down one side of main street, make a lap, and then come back down the other side. It seemed to disturb everyone. Not only was it frightening, but it was intrusive.”

In a recently posted YouTube video titled “Downtown Franklin NC | FPV Cinewhoop Drone,” the footage reveals the device waist-to-face level as it speeds down the sidewalks. 

Guffey noted that he contacted the Franklin Police Department but that few regulations seem to apply to drone operators. He asked Town Attorney John Henning to look into what laws prohibit drones from flying too low and causing disturbances. 

According to the N.C. Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has exclusive         authority over the use of airspace anywhere in the United States, including the airspace used by drones, and drone operators must follow all FAA regulations and policies pertaining to the operation of unmanned aircraft systems, including all related to disturbing manned flight and no-fly zones. However, when it comes to flying a drone in a public area, Henning said, “I understand here are different layers and I need time to look into it.” 

The Council agreed and noted there would be further discussions regarding issues of drones flying within the Town’s limits.

Other business

The meeting began with a proclamation reading by Mayor Jack Horton and accepted by resident David Linn and Guffey regarding the Cherokee/Scottish Heritage Celebration, which will take place June 18. The proclamation states: “Whereas Franklin, Gaduni [Cherokee name for the area], sits in the heart of the Cherokee homeland; and, whereas Franklin is a place where, from the time of the first Scottish traders in the area, the two cultures have intermingled for more than 300 years; and, whereas, the two cultures have shaped our region into what it is today; and, whereas, the town of Franklin is committed to recognizing those cultures, not as historical artifacts, but as living cultures that continue to shape our region; …” 

Guffey thanked Linn for “working tirelessly on this effort,” while Linn commented that the celebration is “more of an education event for the Town of Franklin.” 

Police department assessed

Bill Hollingsed, executive director of the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, officially presented an assessment of the Franklin Police Department and shared areas of priority versus factors that might eventually be addressed. He commented that overall “Franklin is in really good shape … and Police Chief Harrell has already implemented some changes.” He pointed out that the report covers issues regarding employee compensation, training, body and in-car camera systems, and more. Also discussed were considerations involving the department becoming fully accredited in the future in order to adhere to established “best practices.” 

“The police are subject to a lot of criticism right now,” said Mayor Jack Horton, adding that “building trust in the police department and helping the public at large to know that the police are there to serve and protect” is of the highest priority.

Additionally, Keith Pugh, a client success manager with Withers Ravenel, presented an extensive ADA (Americans with Disabilities) plan to the council that evaluates how sidewalks, especially, as well as other public infrastructure, can better comply with ADA guidelines. 

“We got public input via a survey,” said Pugh, “and there is a desire for better accessibility in some areas. A lot of the fixes are relatively simple.”

“You don’t realize how important accessibility is unless you are handicapped,” said Horton, “and we want everyone who comes here to have accessibility.” 

No one from the public who attended the meeting offered input about the Fiscal Year 2022/2023 Budget, which was the focus of a recent article in the May 25 Macon County News. Approval of the budget will take place after the Macon County Commissioners approve a fire district tax; the Council agreed to meet again before the end of June to discuss and approve the budget. 

Town Planner Justin Setser presented, through an Appalachia Grant opportunity, details about converting the long-vacant, former Scott Griffin Hotel and Roof Garden – closed in 1955 – into a boutique hotel and restaurant. Present at the meeting was Janet Green, whose father J.C. Jacobs owned the building after the hotel closed for the 50 years until his death. She said, “It would tickle my dad to no end to know this might happen.”  

Town Manager Amie Owens and other Council members commended Setser on the research and planning involved in the possible redevelopment of the prominent Main Street building. 

“This is one of those opportunities to build more into Franklin … an exciting opportunity for the town.” 

Added Mayor Horton, “It will be a real boost for downtown Franklin.” 

Tim Shaw, with SK828, a group involved in the planning of a skateboarding park, shared that close to 500 people are now actively participating in the effort to make the park a reality. More than $18,000 has been raised through fundraising events, and Shaw asked the council to approve the street closure of a portion of Carolina Mountain Drive for a July 2 fundraising activity. The council approved his request. 

Owens updated the council on the fact that J.E. Dunn Construction, hired by HCA Healthcare to build the new Angel Medical Center in Franklin, had initially expressed interest in helping to raise money and secure trade partners in volunteering time and money to build the skatepark so that the financial burden would not wholly fall to the Town of Franklin. However, Owens said there has been “communication issues” between her and representatives of J.E. Dunn. Thus, she is looking into another firm to build the skatepark, which could delay construction to next spring. Owens addressed representatives of the skateboarding community who attended the meeting: “Please be patient. We will make this happen. It will just take time.” 

Also approved was a request for water and sewer line extension for a development of less-than-1,000-square-foot contractor-built, two-story homes by local attorney Stuart Sloan on property located at what was 210 East Rogers Street, but has been renamed Town Summit Lane; a metering agreement; and, a request for property at 3011 Georgia Road to be designated as Commercial C-2 zoning. 

The next Town Council meeting is Tuesday, July 5, at 6 p.m.; the Town of Franklin offices will be closed Monday, July 4, in observance of Independence Day. Meeting minutes and agendas, as well as contact information for Council members, is available at www.