Some members of the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen favor exploring "residential use" designation for “The Hill” property, located on Fifth Avenue, which is considered the “gateway” area of downtown.
BOMA discussed changing the land use of the property and the possible demolition of two structures at the site at its work session Tuesday.
Three nonprofits are lobbying for the land to be deemed as residential land use so they can partner to build a “much-needed,” some say, affordable housing development in Franklin.
The three nonprofits, Community Housing Partnership, Hard Bargain Association, Habitat for Humanity of Williamson and Maury County, presented early last year a preliminary concept plan (not yet reviewed by the city) that would bring to The Hill 40-44 affordable housing units to 4.76 acres, priced under $200,000. Since Franklin Housing Authority (FHA) has entered into conversations with the three entities to be a part of the vision for the development.
The city-owned property was once the location of the Franklin Water Department and fleet maintenance plant, now designated as civic/institutional use, where two deteriorating metal buildings sit.
In July, BOMA agreed by resolution to delay any land use decisions regarding the property until the completion of close by improvements, to Bicentennial Park and the Hillsboro Road widening project. Now, Point Park at Bicentennial is completed, and the Hillsboro widening project is projected for completion by the end of the year. BOMA also directed city staff last summer to demolish the 40-year-old plus aging buildings.
However, not all agree that the existing buildings on the property should be demolished.
Chris Barnhill executive director of Franktown Open Hearts nonprofit poses a different option – to save the buildings so the organization can operate its youth automotive program.
Barnhill said the buildings would accommodate the purpose for the automotive program as they are.
“We are teaching students employment skills so they can train, graduate high school and get jobs,” Barnhill said.
However, city administrator Eric Stuckey said the buildings are far from “key ready.”
“It would take significant upgrades to bring [the buildings] up to usable standards,” Stuckey said.
Alderman at Large Brandy Blanton voiced her support of changing the site’s land use to residential to make way for the affordable housing development.
“To me, the best use of The Hill property [is residential] because of where it is situated, adjacent to the Hard Bargain community expanding its footprint, close to grocery stores, schools, parks, downtown, walking capability," Blanton said. "I would love for us to do something tangible and duplicate a success story of what we can do on The Hill.”
Not all aldermen agreed.
“I am not at all interested in amending the land use plan,” Margaret Martin, 4th Ward, said during discussion.
“If you cram 40 houses up there, you are not going to do the residents of this town any favors … It’s too dense. Let’s see how this [land use] plan works before changing it for everything that comes down the pike.”
Although, Martin said she is in favor of Franktown using the buildings even short-term if necessary.
“As far as Franktown goes, I am OK with them using it in the interim.”
After the meeting CHP executive director Steve Murray said he would be open to working with Franktown Open Hearts in the affordable housing proposal, so they could use the building for their automotive program.
Alderman at Large Pearl Bransford also voiced support of exploring changing the city land use plan to reflect residential use for The Hill to accommodate the proposed affordable housing development.
“I hope this would be an opportunity for us to step up to the plate and shine and make a mixed-use price point residential area,” Bransford said.
“I would love for us to make that leap. There are a lot of different uses and other things, but I would like to think that we would like to hone in on (residential housing).”
Former candidate for 1st Ward alderman J Edward Campbell spoke in favor of residential use to allow an affordable housing development during public comments.
“I sit here representing myself and ask all of you to consider The Hill,” he said.
“When I ran for ran for alderman, I was told if you bring up affordable housing in Ward 1, you will lose the election. That is a lie. It has come up over and over again. We are at a crossroads today with people who cannot to live here.”
"Why are we afraid of affordable, workforce and attainable housing in Franklin," Campbell added.
Executive Director of Hard Bargain Association Brant Bousquet, who also spoke during public comments, recognized that The Hill “is Hard Bargain.”
The property sits in a historical area, the Hard Bargain district, where a freed-slave bought the land by driving a “hard bargain,” which ultimately developed into an area where generations of families have built their homes at a reasonable price. The Hard Bargain Association was developed in order to generate the creation of affordable housing in the area to rehab, renovate and build homes for future generations.
Bousquet asked some residents of the hard Bargain area to raise their hands in the audience at BOMA, showing their support of residential housing on The Hill.
Marquita Solomon, whose grandfather co-founded Hard Bargain Association, was among the audience members.
"This extension of affordable housing would help Hard Bargain and would also help my grandfather's dream come true that the people of Franklin would be able to have access to affordable housing," Solomon said.
Alma McLemore, planning commissioner and descendant of The McLemore House, the location of the African American history museum in the Hard Bargain area, said “it’s time.”
“I am ready for the next phase and to move to the next step of exploring residential housing for The Hill.
“We need it. It’s time.”