Dan Finnerty – Contributing Writer
As part of an ongoing process to determine the best use for the Whitmire
Property, the Town of Franklin produced an online survey for interested parties to provide input on their preferences regarding development options. In addition to the survey, all-day, in-person sessions were held Feb. 23 for additional opportunities to provide input. From 9 a.m. through 5:30 p.m., two-hour segments were held at the Recreation Park Community Building, Franklin Town Hall, and Macon County Public Library. When the day was over, more than 120 interested parties stopped in to learn more about the town-owned Whitmire Property and submit their input.
Town Planner Justin Setser hosted the public meetings, along with two representatives from McGill Associates: Nate Halubka and Kurtis Durrant. McGill is an Asheville-based company that provides engineering, land planning and recreation, and consulting services.
Halubka defined the effort as “trying to make sure we are capturing a wide swath of the population and to make sure we are hitting all the demographics in order to ensure the community is getting a park that really represents their needs accurately.”
He said that the online survey has generated a robust return, with more than 300 responses representing 500 family members.
Halubka described the public input sessions as a means to “guard against any potential gaps that may exist with the online survey.” While the in-person opportunities were just one day, the online survey will continue to run through early March. It is accessible online at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Whitmire_Survey.
In describing the layout of the Whitmire property, Halubka stated that future housing, about which discussions are ongoing, may take up a portion of the space. Additionally, some green space may eventually end up being used for park expansion.
Each public location included a display of what the property currently looks like as well as 32 options for development and uses on two “choice boards.” Visitors were provided three stickers and asked to apply one to each of their top-three choices. Developmental options include: restrooms, a picnic/event pavilion, playground, an interpretive trail, walking trail loop, mountain bike and/or disc golf courses, and myriad other ideas.
“We expect this stage of the process to be completed by the end of May, when McGill will present its recommendations and funding options, based on the input and subsequent evaluation,” said Setser.
Once that phase is completed, the funding and grant cycles will drive timing as to when actual development will begin and how long it will be projected to take. Setser also pointed out “regardless [of how the input and future evaluation process goes with McGill], the skatepark development piece is happening – that’s why it’s already drawn on the map and wasn’t presented as a voting option. We don’t want people wasting votes on something that’s already happening.”
Durrant closed with a synopsis of how he envisions the process to move forward.
“We’ll take all this information and share it with the town, and through conversations we’ll come up with some concepts and different design ideas and layouts before landing on a final [recommendation] that we will present to the Town Council.” He expects timing to be “early summer before having a master plan designed and a public, written document available that breaks down how we landed upon where we are,” said Durrant.