DFA touts plan but has concerns about historic district, fees

Published 9:18 pm Friday, March 6, 2015

One of the larger historic-looking homes of downtown Franklin on High Street. The planning commission on Thursday approved the comprehensive plan, which includes a section about potentially expanding the historic district to include homes. Some residents think that might be a mistake.

One of the larger historic-looking homes of downtown Franklin on High Street. The planning commission on Thursday approved the comprehensive plan, which includes a section about potentially expanding the historic district to include homes. Some residents think that might be a mistake.

A change in the historic district and stormwater fees were a couple of the concerns that Downtown Franklin Association members and downtown residents have about Franklin’s updated comprehensive plan.

The comprehensive plan is a list of guidelines that the Franklin Planning Commission prepares for the Franklin City Council, as a set of tools for the board to have in place for events on the horizon.

DFA Executive Director Dan Howe said the city needed to be careful about expanding the historic district. Sometimes, historic preservation becomes more difficult, not less when slapping one of the historic district labels on a property.

“It’s already very hard in today’s economy to get people to put money into a flood zone,” Howe said. “I’ve spent seven years trying to — it’s real difficult.

“If you add more restrictions to where you can put paint or hang awnings, it is going to be a problem for them. That’s the concern, that it will become more prohibitive, more restrictive to actually rehabilitate downtown.”

Mary Christy Morris, who runs Mackans Office Supply & Printing, also voiced concerns about the historic district, as did Ann Jervey, whose North High Street home would be in the expanded zone should it expand.

“I would want to know what the advantages and disadvantages are to homeowners, and why no prior notification was sent to those involved?” Jervey said. “I think we need to be — deserve to be — informed about what is considered in a more comprehensive conversation.”

“I don’t understand the expanding of our historic district,” Morris added. “I hope you all can better explain that in the future.”

Howe and Morris were also concerned with the suggestion of adding more fees, in this instance dealing with stormwater.

“Of course, we don’t want more fees, especially in downtown, but I don’t think anyone in the city would want that,” Morris said. “But I would ask you to consider, if you have to put in another fee, to consider making it part of our personal property taxes, so that we can see some of that money back that we put out when we file our income taxes.”

R.W. “Bobby” Tyler, who serves on the commission, suggested that they consider taking out the chapter on the historical district before passing it along to council, so that they could look at that one just a little longer.

“I know it’s already something we have talked about for quite a while,” Tyler added. The commission has been working on the plan at regular meetings, work sessions and public forums since 2012.

Commission chairman Daniel K. Peak Jr. said that if possible, he’d prefer to send the whole document at once. Community Development Director Donald Goodwin echoed that and gave the backstory on the stormwater fees and the historic district expansion.

In part to give city residents a chance to benefit from local tax credits and to preserve the Victorian look of the homes near downtown Franklin, the city council appointed a historic commission to look into the matter.

That commission outlined the expanded district to run from the oldest part of South, High and Clay streets. The change, Goodwin said, would not affect commercial properties.

“The whole purpose of the expansion was to try to keep the character of the older housing stock of the city,” he said.

Goodwin said the resolution, if approved by city council, would put in place guidelines for exterior improvements, though specifically he said color of the home was not a concern.

The biggest change, though, was concerning demolition. Before a home could be taken down, the structure had to be offered for sale to the historic society.

“It was to make demolition a last resort,” Goodwin said. “And if a home was demolished, there are guidelines to protect from someone building a modern house in a historic area with Victorian homes. We didn’t want someone putting a brick rancher between two Victorian homes.”

The historic commission had made these recommendations to city council, but then something happened that took attention away from the historic district: International Paper announced that it was closing.

“It has not moved any further since then,” Goodwin said. “What we have just suggested, in the comprehensive plan, is to have city council look at it, and consider it if they want to.

“Our approving it will not create any regulations for anyone in the historic district, this is just to give council options.”

The stormwater fee, Goodwin said, is for an “in case” scenario. Currently, the City of Franklin would have no need for these fees, it’s just another option for council should that day come.

The fee would help the City upgrade its stormwater system should the Department of Environmental Quality come knocking.

If the DEQ got involved with the amount of phosphorus or nitrogen going into the Blackwater River, and it labeled Franklin an MS4 community, then the city would have to rehabilitate its many retention ponds and other stormwater ditches.

“This is just a tool to offset those potential costs if everyone participates,” Goodwin said. “I don’t see that happening in the near future, though.”

After a 5-1 vote, with Lawyer A. Artis Jr. absent and Tyler dissenting, the commission approved the comprehensive plan and sent it to the city council.

Tyler’s worry was due to the historic district section.

“I am concerned that we would send this on, even as just a recommendation, in so far that so many folks have spoken in opposition to it,” Tyler said. “I don’t think anybody has come in here and said that we love it and want it. Of all the public hearings, we haven’t seen anyone say this is a great thing, and that’s my point.”

Tyler said he is aware of at least three different kinds of historic districts, all with different convoluted rules and regulations. To truly know what they were recommending, he wanted to discuss this specific provision more.

“I would agree with you,” said Peake. “For city council, there are several things out there that need to be cleared up. I get the sense that we are asking them to do that.”

“I certainly hope they do,” Tyler responded.

From here, council is required by law to at minimum have a public hearing on the comprehensive plan before approving it. The board may also elect to have work sessions or public information meetings as well.

The plan itself, if approved by council, will not make any changes on its own. It is simply a list of guidelines that council can refer to as it makes decisions.

Should council wish to pursue one of the guidelines, such as the historic district change, that would also have to be voted on separately in the future. Such a resolution would also have to face a public hearing.

“It’s something that would be a long process, even if council decided to do it,” Goodwin said of the expansion of the historic district. “There would be notices sent out to every homeowner affected, and they would have to have a public hearing.”

Once council does adopt the comprehensive plan, amendments can be made to it, but only after both the planning commission and the city go through another round of public hearings and votes to approve it.