Concerned about Franklin’s future

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 14, 2007

To the Editor:

I have been very active in the city for the past five years promoting historic preservation not only for houses, neighborhoods and heritage, but for the entire community.

I am very concerned with the downward direction our city is headed.

Our historic district is severely abused by everyone, which is the cause for so many issues: retaining/recruiting businesses in the downtown, environmental issues, increases in property taxes and utilities. Our city services are becoming over-extended, there are zoning issues, education/school issues, city council/school board conflicts on many different levels, budget issues, urban sprawl. There are too many to list. Our small-town feel is being destroyed.

There’s too much building going on resulting in environmental issues for wildlife and continued flooding in the downtown to name two.

Downtown businesses are hard to retain, there are few businesses well-kept enough to attract tourism to stay long enough. Overextended services and increased taxes are a burden on existing citizens because of urban sprawl.

We’re losing good teachers and citizens because of school issues, our city council members make poor decisions without listening to their constituents and budget issues rest on the people in charge of our town.

I would guess certain people who are involved with the city are afraid that once investors are invited in to &uot;change&uot; our town, the big politics of our tiny town would change also.

Historic preservation is a multi-million dollar project. If done right, it would create new jobs and businesses while retaining the existing ones in our downtown.

We’d be able to maintain existing city services without overburdening sewer, water and garbage, most likely being able to improve them. Environmental issues would dwindle, budget issues would be less of a burden, property taxes would remain steady and the quality of life would be improved for everyone. Tourism is a huge industry that prospers $16 billion a year in Virginia.

What people consider to be our &uot;downtown&uot;, or the commercial area, is not enough to make that happen.

The downtown only has 19 historic structures listed on the National Historic Register along with 160 structures in the residential district, many of which have been taken down with our City Council’s approval.

Why separate the residential from the commercial area?

It’s all on one national historic register.

The true downtown is being destroyed. City Council needs to expand the district to encompass as many areas possible to make sure the original town stays intact for our city’s future. There are many different architectural styles that contribute to America’s heritage here that do not exist anywhere else.

But if they’re gone, who cares?

Historic preservation IS part of economic development. Ask the Franklin/Southampton Futures group or the president of the Franklin/Southampton Economic Development group what they’re doing to help this effort.

The Futures group has three committees: education, recreation and land use. Historic preservation falls under all three.

The president of the Franklin/Southampton Economic Development group is a paid employee through the Camp Foundation and the office is housed on the third floor of the incubator overlooking the &uot;downtown.&uot;

Our city needs to prepare for the time that comes when the paper mill closes.

There are few large employers in our community, Wal-Mart being one of them. I have already witnessed what’s happening in this small city in my own hometown. I grew up in a small community with a major employer that shut down after 150 years of operating. Our big box store went bankrupt, our school district combined with another school district in another town and people were forced to move to other areas throughout the county.

All that was left was an abandoned quarry and a severely damaged stone structure. The structure is now a museum of artifacts, mostly pictures, of what was there less than 50 years ago. A town much like Franklin is now a faded memory.

What is Franklin’s fate? Does anyone care?

I leave you with this: Elections for mayor are coming upon us.

Let’s see who really cares enough to make a difference.

Jennifer Bernocco