South side needs representation, development

Published 10:47 pm Sunday, September 21, 2008

A few years ago, during a retreat, the Franklin City Council decided to pursue a new vision for the south side. Its plan was to gentrify the south side, removing the current residents and replacing them with a new class of residents that was more to their liking.

Councilwomen Mary Hilliard and Raystine Johnson were in full support of this plan to alter the makeup of their wards. They supported the Langston Street-type redevelopment, and they are in support of doing even more of these projects.

According to the city, most of the citizens of the south side rent because of low incomes. The councilwomen and the city want to reduce the number of residents within the south side, eliminate rental housing in order to remove the residents from the area, and open up South Street for business development. And they set up the redevelopment committee to develop a map of potential south side properties to take.

In order to reach their goals, Councilwomen Mary Hilliard, Raystine Johnson and Rosa Lawrence then appointed representatives from the Downtown Association, the Chamber of Commerce and Franklin Southampton Economic Development to the redevelopment committee.

They say the committee is going to plan redevelopment for the whole city. But at the Wednesday meeting, the committee discussed exempting the historic district and downtown from redevelopment. I tried to ask them about exempting all churches from any future red-lined redevelopment zones, and they refused to address my concern.

Why did Hilliard, Johnson and Lawrence set up a committee to take homes and churches from residents in their wards, without anyone from their wards to speak up for their wards?

Why is Southampton County involved in City of Franklin redevelopment?

Downtown already has a master plan and plenty of committees working on revitalization. Why would the city want to redevelop downtown?

I’ve been checking the official records, and there have been no discussions on using rehabilitation or spot blight removal for improving the lives of the south side citizens. Hilliard, Johnson and Lawrence aren’t leading on this issue. They are not speaking up for their wards on this issue.

Benny Burgess and Barry Cheatham were not elected to represent the south side; they were elected to represent their wards on the north side. Hilliard, Johnson and Lawrence need to stop waiting for them to direct them on south side issues.

As I said earlier, I’ve been checking the record, and I can’t find one instance where Hilliard, Johnson or Lawrence have made one motion on important south side issues, or placed an important issue on the agenda.

I’ve found lots of seconding motions, and a ton load of ayes. But, this needs to change. Our councilwomen need to change their positions on gentrification, and making South Street the next Armory Drive. They need to support their wards by stopping the taking of our homes and churches through so-called redevelopment.