Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
Last month, a concerned citizen spoke to members of the Franklin Town Council regarding a noise complaint near Shaw Industries. A commercial business was doubling as a gathering place for “Mexicans” to party late at night. Both Franklin Police Chief David Adams and Franklin Mayor Bob Scott have fielded complaints after midnight at the location on Depot Street and have seen the parties first hand. To address the issue, Scott directed Franklin Town Attorney John Henning Jr. to draft an ordinance that would allow Franklin Police to enforce regulations on the “parties.”
At Monday night’s meeting, the council discussed the proposed regulatory measures. The draft ordinance was presented in the form of a police power ordinance to regulate parties or “nuisance gatherings.” The proposed ordinance would not allow “nuisance gatherings of 10 or more persons in or outdoors between the hours of 12: a.m. to 7 a.m. within 250 feet of an occupied dwelling.” According to Henning on a First Amendment basis, the use of “nuisance gathering” rather than parties was better as the problem is with the gathering not the reason they are gathered.
While the matter of controlling late night parties was discussed at length and a draft ordinance was presented, council members decided not to take action until future discussion and clarification could be made to the ordinance.
According to Henning such an ordinance would declare “’nuisance gatherings’ as detrimental to the town’s health, safety and welfare condition as well as detrimental to the peace of the town.”
“I think you have good arguments for such an ordinance based on complaints you’ve already been fielded from residents,” said Henning. “You have good evidence of the problem you are trying to approach and narrowly defining it with such an ordinance.”
Throughout the discussion, council members asked for more time to understand the ordinance. Scott, however, wanted to take action and adopt the draft ordinance stating he did not want to “subject the police department to another month of some of the stuff that has been going on.” Scott stated the police have been called out multiple times over the last several months to deal with the late night parties. The draft ordinance also had the support of Chief Adams.
Franklin council member Joe Collins urged the board to reconsider passing a “knee-jerk reaction” or approving one ordinance that specially targets one business or group of people.
“There are a lot of reasons why we don’t want to rush into something,” said Collins in opposition to Scott. “Bad circumstances make bad laws. Trying to put a band aid on something is a real quick solution, but the most prudent thing is to consider this as a land use restriction; this board doesn’t need to have a knee jerk response.”
Collins stated he would not be in favor of an ordinance that would regulate gatherings such as a family get togethers with more than 10 people that continued after 12 a.m. and was the reason for a complaint by another resident.
While the original complaint was about a specific business or location, the ordinance would impact the entire city limits, including town residents.
“So if someone has more than 10 people in their home after midnight, their neighbors could call and report it as a complaint to police,” Council member Brandon McMahan asked for clarification. Town Attorney Henning Jr. affirmed that would be correct.
“Well that sounds like my mom’s house on Christmas Eve,” McMahan said when opposing the ordinance as written.
The way the ordinance was written would also impact a growing town festival in the New Year’s Eve party, the Ruby Drop. The event takes place after midnight and could potentially lead to violations if homeowners within 250 feet of the festivities complained to law enforcement.
Franklin Vice Mayor Patti Abel also wanted additional clarification before a vote.
“I feel there are still a lot of questions about such an ordinance,” said Vice Mayor Patti Abel. “I agree we need to do something, but before we make a motion, we need to clarify the wording and definitions in the ordinance. I can’t vote on the ordinance because I don’t have clarity on what I am voting on.”
Henning suggested that that such an ordinance would be better as a land use regulation especially as it concerns how someone will employ their land. However, regulating late night parties with a land use restriction would take longer to establish requiring the adoption by the planning board, followed by a public hearing and final approval by the town council.
Scott wanted the board to vote Monday night and then work out the details later, but didn’t have the support of his fellow council members.
Franklin Town Planner Justin Setser consulted other municipalities around the state and most employ land use restrictions rather than police power ordinances to regulate late night parties and noise.
Macon County has a noise ordinance for property outside of the city limits and took months to draft the ordinance, and utilized the entire Planning Board, compared to the few weeks spent by the town and the town attorney.
The Macon County Planning Board was directed to draft a noice ordinance — referred to as a nuisance ordinance — in September 2014 and after revisions and seven months of clarification, Macon County Commissioners did approve the measure in April 2015.
After county leaders held a public comment on the issue that solicited more than an hour of input from residents, commissioners approved the measure 4-1 with Commissioner Paul Higdon opposed. Some residents wanted the ordinance to be stronger while others wanted it to be thrown out completely. The county ordinance specifically prohibits nuisance noise, which was defined in the planning board’s draft as “loud, unnecessary and disturbing noise” that is intentionally created to disturb someone’s peace.
Henning will draft another ordinance for the town council’s consideration at its next regular meeting to be held on July 3 at 7 p.m. Unlike the route the county took, as of right now, the town doesn’t plan to hold a public hearing on the matter and if favorable next month, will approve the new ordinance after it is presented.