In November 2004, the Franklin Board of Aldermen spent $1,575,000 to purchase the 12-acre Whitmire property located off of the Highlands Road. At the time the property was purchased, town officials were working with Dale Pennell with MicGill Associates to design a conceptual plan for a new municipal complex on the property. The plans included a new town hall, fire department, public works building, and police department. Over the last 12 years, the town have pursued other ventures to create a new police department and a new town hall, leaving the purpose of the Whitmire property up for discussion.
At the time the property was purchased, Mayor Bob Scott served as an alderman, Alderman Joe Collins was mayor, and Alderman Billy Mashburn was also on the board.
On Monday night, a group of citizens presented a possible usage plan for the property which including walking trails, bike trails, open theaters and other multi-use recreational opportunities.
“The top two priorities from the 2014 Macon County State of the County report cited reducing the number of incidents of preventable chronic diseases related to obesity, particularly diabetes and heart disease, and promoting the recruitment and retention of additional primary care physicians and dental practitioners to serve Macon County residents,” said Jimbo Ledford. “We have come up with a concept for the Whitmire property that not only addresses these two issues, but establishes a multi-use park for the town of Franklin.”
Ledford, along with about a dozen other residents attended the meeting in support of the project which proposes a variety of outdoor recreational options for individual sport enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels. Ledford presented aldermen with a concept design that divided the 12-acre property to make room for an array of outdoor activities.
Activities proposed include walking/running trails, outdoor racquetball courts, picnic tables, barbecue areas and shelters, a garden area and nature trail, an open field for group classes, mountain bike trails and an open air theater. The concept also included an all-wheel park, which is an active park for skateboarders, inline skaters, and BMX and mountain bike riders. The design also laid out a plan for a disc golf course, which continues to be a growing sport in Western North Carolina. An area of the plan Ledford presented also included a bouldering or climbing wall for all ages.
“This property is the ideal location for a multi-use park,” said Ledford. “It is in town and sits five minutes from anywhere in town. It is easily accessible for walkers or bikers and it falls in line perfectly with what the town is doing by creating the cycling and pedestrian plan for Franklin. It can also be easily connected to the Greenway and most importantly, it can preserve a town-owned property while revitalizing the east part of town. Someone who once sat on this board had the foresight to buy this property, why aren’t we using it?”
While the residents had a plan for the property, their presentation wasn’t asking the board for action, but rather for them to begin discussion on the property and how to best utilize the space. Ledford also asked for direction as to what to do next to begin exploring various options.
Mayor Bob Scott noted that Alderman Collins is the town’s recreation liaison and would be a point of contact for the project. Since being elected to the board of alderman, Collins has pushed for the Whitmire Property to be discussed and noted that it might be more beneficial for the town to sell the property rather than keep it. On Monday, Collins, along with Alderman Mashburn said that while they appreciated the concept design presented by Ledford, it is still too preliminary to discuss the property in any more depth at this point.
Alderman Adam Kimsey and Alderman Brandon McMahan noted their support of creating a use for the property as well as their interest in the multi-use park presented by Ledford. McMahan asked if the town could move forward with discussing the proposal as well as look at other options for the property, as it has been 12 years since it was purchased.
“How much longer do we wait for other options to arise?” McMahan asked.
Alderman Mashburn said discussion on the property wasn’t necessary at this time and suggested that in time, a use of the property might be clearer for the board.
“If you’ll hold on a minute, you’ll see,” Mashburn replied.
Ledford asked how the group could improve their presentation and concept over the next month to help continue the discussion of a multi-use park on the property. Alderman Barbara McRae and Mayor Bob Scott suggested researching funding sources for the park in the forms of grants and public/private partnerships.
Town Manager Summer Woodard noted that the upkeep on the property is minimal and the town doesn’t pay taxes or annual fees to keep the property as is. While there has been some vandalism on the property, the town’s involvement in the property including clearing stones and conducting a training drill to burn a building on the property conducted by the Franklin fire department.
Over the next month, the board suggested thinking about the property and hearing additional information and research from Ledford and others interested in the future of the property.