Dan Finnerty – Staff Writer
The first Town of Franklin Council gathering of 2023 on Jan. 3, began with Mayor Jack Horton calling the meeting to order and Vice Mayor Joe Collins leading the Pledge of Allegiance. The agenda included project and departmental updates as well as public hearings on rezoning requests for 120 Riverview Street and 7 Plantation Drive.
Nikwasi Initiative Director Elaine Eisenbraun provided an annual report on the status of Nikwasi projects. The Apple Trail on the Little Tennessee River Greenway which is dedicated to Barbara McRae, now contains numerous Cherokee-developed varieties of trees, all of which are newly planted, with expectations of edible fruit in the near future. The small orchard is located about a half mile down from Big Bear pavilion on the left side. Eisenbraun pointed out that many volunteers, including Macon Early College students, assisted with planting “companion plants,” which help encourage pollination and deter pestilent bugs and disease impact on the trees.
“In a few years, we hope that people can go out there and pick an apple up off the ground or off the tree and bite into it and kind of know a little more about the heritage and the world that came before them,” said Eisenbraun.
Regarding the Nikwasi Mound, or “Noquishi,” as Eisenbraun verbalized it, a new sign
is being developed for the mound’s south side, which should be in place by summer. She also mentioned split-rail fencing being considered but stated that council approval will be required prior to installation. The former Dan’s Auto Building, which is owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is being considered as a learning center intended to enhance the mound’s setting, add more greenspace, and include some mobile/interactive exhibits.
The town’s finance director Sarah Bishop provided an update revealing that while franchise tax revenue is down, sales tax revenue more than makes up for the deficit. Additionally, investment earnings are positive following a couple years of zero returns due to various factors. With the midpoint of the fiscal year already past, only 41% of the allocated budget has been spent thus far.
Town Planner Justin Setser spoke on upcoming 2023 projects that include crosswalk safety, rezoning, applying for paved trails grants through NCDOT, continued work with the Scott Rickman hotel for concept art and renderings, and involvement with the Asheville-based nonprofit Givens Estates on converting the old Angel Medical Center building to affordable senior housing.
Franklin Police Chief Devin Holland spoke on the department’s goals for the coming
year. Increasing police presence, including efficiency within the community to improve accessibility to and communication of police officers. He also plans to “restructure through reallocation of staff to assist with busier times and extra-curricular activities.”
Another area of focus is increased interaction with the fire department for more comprehensive safety coverage for the town.
“We will be taking our old police enclosed trailer and turning it into a command post, hopefully for both agencies … we can use it for incidents or festivals and it gets us back in the community more,” said Holland.
The public hearings portion of the meeting focused on rezoning within the town. One area is the former Angel Medical Center and consists of 13.53 acres. While currently zoned for medical/institutional/cultural/residential, rezoning to commercial is being requested. No residents signed up to speak on this issue. However, for the second rezoning request, 7 Plantation Drive drew ample interest from those who were signed up to speak on the topic. Consisting of two parcels, the request is for converting both to commercial zoning. Currently, part of the property owned by Stephen Baldwin, is deemed R1 (residential) and another part is C2 (commercial business).
Several residents, most of whom live adjacent to or very near the property, voiced concerns about the proposed changes. The common thread focused on traffic, noise, and uncertainty with future development. With a 55-years-old and older community near the property, as well as other single-family homes and families with children, both noise levels and traffic increases could pose potential problems for residents located near a larger commercial business zone.
“My business has been in place and operating in the same general area for seven years and I’m not aware of any complaints with his business, including noise or traffic,” Baldwin said expressing acknowledgement of resident concerns.
Council members discussed the issue after learning that some of the business owner’s property is currently zoned commercial and some residential. Horton also pointed out that the county planning board initiated the request and asked the council to approve rezoning, even though the property in question is not within Franklin’s city limits. After nearly an hour of commentary and discussion, a motion was made and seconded to delay action on this issue until the Feb. 6 meeting to allow the council to research and deliberate more before making a final decision.
Under new business, the council agreed to accept an $820,000 grant from the NC Department of Environmental Quality. More specifically, the grant originated from the State Fiscal Recovery Fund, as part of the overall American Rescue Plan. However, in order to utilize the funds for the proposed Clyde Street waterline improvements, the council needed to formally accept the grant to execute the improvements, as per the state’s Division of Water Infrastructure. The resolution to accept the funds and adoption of the improvement project were unanimously approved by Town Council.
Also approved was a licensing agreement between the Town of Franklin and First United Methodist Church to allow the town to take control of the church’s skatepark area and also allows for operation of designated areas that include certain hazardous activities, such as skateboarding. Further, the agreement permits changing hours of operation to fit with other parks from dawn until dark and for leaving the gate open for unsupervised skateboarding activities.
The last order of business was approval for the Heritage Hollow right of way and town acceptance of the street maintenance, both of which were approved. The next council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 6.