Sidewalks, commutes and parking were just a few of the topics addressed at the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen candidate forum at Franklin City Hall Monday night as alderman candidates discussed topics largely centered around getting to and fro.
Franklin Tomorrow, with the Williamson County Association of Realtors, Williamson Herald, Franklin Home Page and Williamson, Inc., welcomed the Franklin community to listen in as city candidates answered questions about their prospective roles on the board and how they will address key issues.
Franklin Mayor Ken Moore and Alderman Ann Petersen, both running unopposed, had the opportunity alongside the other candidates to give opening and closing statements, but the hard-hitting questions were reserved for the contenders — incumbents Clyde Barnhill, Brandy Blanton and Pearl Bransford against challengers Howard Garrett, Michelle Sutton and Bhavani Muvvala, respectively.
Unsurprisingly, transportation and infrastructure were key topics for the night. Each candidate expressed approval of connectivity through sidewalks, greenways and potentially a riverwalk along the Harpeth River, something Moore has had his eye on for some time.
“Anytime we can get out and walk and exercise and see downtown Franklin and use those facilities, it is healthy for us, and it’s less traffic on the road,” Barnhill said.
Blanton noted she headed up the project to stretch a sidewalk from Mack Hatcher Memorial Parkway to Pinkerton Park, and Muvvala said he supports greater walkability so residents can enjoy the city.
“The reason I moved from California to Tennessee and to Franklin city was to see the beauty, walking trails, but unfortunately, I don’t have the sidewalks where I live,” Muvvala said.
When asked how Franklin will engage the regional transportation conversation and turn it into action, the candidates bore a “just do it” attitude. Barnhill said implementation of alternative transportation will likely require educating citizens on the benefits, which Bransford echoed.
Bransford recently returned from Germany, where she said citizens utilize numerous transportation options.
“When you leave our borders, you see a lot of bikes, a lot of walking, a lot of trains, and the citizens really embrace it,” she said. “Here, we’re going to have to educate some of our citizens that having trails … near their property or in the back of their property is going to be a good thing.”
Moderator and WAKM radio personality Tom Lawrence threw the candidates a curveball flavored with transportation but digging into something deeper: “Tomorrow night, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen meet. On the agenda is a proposal, which the incumbent aldermen will have four options to choose from. … I want to know which one of those four options you are for.”
Referring to a sidewalk extension project on Lewisburg Avenue, Lawrence did not list the specifics of each option.
Muvvala answered simply, “I go with option one.” This option is the least expensive at just over $1 million, extending the sidewalk on the east side of the road from its cutoff to just past Stewart Street.
Bransford supports the design that stretches “from point A to the park,” likely referring to option four — a sidewalk on the east reaching to Thomson Alley and a multi-use trail reaching to Eastern Flank Battlefield Park.
Garrett admitted he was unfamiliar with the options and refrained from answering definitively, and the remaining candidates all went for the $5-million option four.
“I know it is the most expensive option, but we need to do all of the connectivity and not do part of it now, part of it later, thus possibly spending more money,” Sutton said.
Her opponent, Blanton, agreed but added option four should be extended further to connect to Mack Hatcher.
“There’s no reason to not go ahead and envision the entire project,” she said. “The closer we get to Mack Hatcher with the opportunity to connect to a state route, I think that there might be some state grants there that are available to help us pay for their portion.”
Attainable housing was another big topic of the night, causing more of a split in the room. Garrett and Blanton have made this a leading issue in their campaigns, both advocating for those who work in Franklin but can’t afford to live in the city.
Barnhill noted the city is looking to allocate sums of $500,000 and $1 million to assist attainable housing developments, and potentially up to $4 million with development at “The Hill” — a property behind the Sonic Drive-In on 5th Avenue. His opponent, Garrett, argued there is still more to be done.
“When you look at the median house in Franklin as of August 2019, which was $601,000, that $1 million is just a drop in the bucket,” he said. “We have to find more solutions … because we have people who are dealing with this on a daily basis who can’t afford to live here and are having to drive 30 to 45 minutes into the city.”
Blanton said she thinks the best approach is to stand behind nonprofits geared towards providing attainable housing. Sutton went a step further to say taxpayers shouldn’t bear this responsibility.
“As an advocate for the free market, I don’t believe that government should be using citizens’ taxpaying dollars to fund housing, but I do believe government should be of assistance in waiving some of the fees or shortening the process when developers commit to building at price points that are more financially attainable,” she said.
Muvvala agreed, supporting related nonprofits as Blanton mentioned.
Concerning downtown Franklin, Garrett and Sutton said they would prefer not to add another parking garage to the area but would look into other options to address parking.
“We’re already congested down here. We need to find another way to extend the parking,” Garrett said.
Barnhill, Bransford, Blanton and Muvvala said they would support additional parking, though Blanton did not specifically voice support of a multi-level garage. Additionally, Muvvala said he would prefer to place a garage outside the downtown area, allowing tourists a place to park without crowding the central area.
“The city can make money around the visitors, so we need to provide whatever the visitors need, and I don’t want it to be in the historic Franklin downtown. It can be like five or 10 minutes away,” he said.
The forum lasted about two hours, bearing a wealth of information on each candidate’s platform. To learn more about the prospective aldermen and their thoughts on gentrification, mixed-use facilities and even ice cream, watch the full forum on the city of Franklin’s Facebook page.
The polls are open for early voting on weekdays from 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. now until Oct. 17 and Saturday, Oct. 12 from 8 a.m.–noon. Election day is Tuesday, Oct. 22.