Just the Facts

‘Walkability and quality of life’ goal of town projects

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Dan Finnerty

With more than a year of work behind them, Town of Franklin planning team members held a public meeting April 18 to discuss a grant associated with the Whitmire Property development and to answer questions.

Town Manager Amie Owens and Town Planner Justin Setser hosted the meeting, held in the Town Hall boardroom. At their April 1 meeting, Franklin Town Council members approved an application for a North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant for up to $500,000. The grant requires a one-to-one match of funding approved, meaning the State will match monies put forth by Franklin out of an existing fund balance. The result could be as much as $1 million utilized for the first phase of the 12.71-acre Whitmire Property development.

TOWN MANAGER Amie Owens and Town Planner Justin Setser hosted a meeting April 18, held in the Town Hall boardroom, to answer questions about plans for the Whitmire Property in Franklin. A full diagram of the property and future plans was available for viewing by the public.

According to a June 2023 Town of Franklin Whitmire Property Master Plan, the land was historically the estate of E.J. and Burda Whitmire. E.J. Whitmire was a prominent educator, contractor, agriculturalist, and public servant in the Town of Franklin. The Town acquired the 12.71-acre parcel in December 2004. 

Owens and Setser informed that the highlight of Phase One is an all-inclusive play area for children with varying abilities and limitations. The development would be the first of its kind in Macon County, with the Waynesville area, 40 miles away, currently the closest location offering anything similar for children. 

Along with the pour-in-place play area, the phase includes a 12-stall restroom facility, two paved parking areas, and connecting sidewalks. When asked why the play area was chosen for the first phase, Owens told attendees that other than walking trails, it finished the highest in priority on the survey conducted in 2023.

Explaining some of the project planning, Setser said that the bathrooms are in the middle of the property.  “Originally, they were located within the multi-use pavilion in the northeast section of the property, but then planners realized centralized location made more sense. Because you can have events farther away, we decided to have it centrally located for everyone’s use,” he said.

With the PARTF grant due to be submitted by May 1, Owens advised, “We should find out sometime in August whether it is funded and funds would be received sometime in October.”

She also reminded attendees, “We went through the process back in 2023; we did two public input sessions: one in February and one in May in multiple different locations here in town. We also did an online survey and we were very pleased to receive over 500 responses on that survey.” 

The two parking areas will consist of 112 spaces total, with one lot having 88 and the other 24. Ten additional spaces along Highlands Road will be part of a subsequent project phase.

When asked what the remaining two phases may cost, Owens gave a brief history of efforts undertaken so far to determine what the total might be. 

“We don’t know for sure but the full amount when we first looked at it, and McGill [and Associates] helped us out, was a little over $8.5 million for the whole thing. The phase we are looking at (Phase One) total cost is a little bit over $1.5 million.”

In answering a question about opportunity for subsequent grant requests, Owens relayed some rules and work accomplished thus far in the grant process. 

THE TOWN of Franklin-owned Whitmire Property spans 12.71 acres and contains a skateboard park and a disc golf course.

“You can apply multiple years. We were very lucky to have a sit-down meeting with Macon County, with their Parks and Rec Department. We agreed that they would support us in our grant endeavor for this project and then maybe next year they’ll apply for something at their recreation facilities and we’ll support them.”

Owens reassured attendees that “we will continue to apply for any and all types of grants that we can. If someone wants to donate, we are happy to accept. We want to make sure we are going into [the next phases] with the mindset of, it’s controlled, we know what we’re doing, we’re doing it the right way so that it’s going to last for years. We will look at what we can afford each year and go from there.”

Town of Franklin Vice Mayor Stacy Guffey attended the meeting and recognized Owens and Setser for their efforts. “Thank you for the work you are doing on the grant and looking for different ways to fund the next phases,” he said.

Crawford Branch Greenway study

Setser also shared at the meeting that the Town has received a grant from the NC Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a study on connecting the Crawford Branch Greenway with the section of the Little Tennessee Greenway around Big Bear Park and the Women’s History Trail. When completed, Crawford Branch would extend all the way to Memorial Park. 

In support of the study, a survey is available via QR code, which can be scanned and completed. The survey went live on April 18 and will be available until May 20. Regarding project planning, Setser admitted there is not yet a set or designated route determined and meetings are ongoing with various stakeholders and property owners potentially affected by the eventual completion of the connected walkways. 

The survey includes varying route options that those completing it can choose or comment on. Setser relayed the QR code is available on his department’s Facebook page, on the Town website, both under “Public Notices,” and also on the Planning Department page. He encouraged private citizens to visit and share the website: https://publicinput.com/crawfordbranch.

“There were so many moving pieces when the DOT released the ‘grants for feasibility studies’ so we really needed a playbook of what to do to get this completed down the road,” offered Setser.

“Tying these two [efforts] together shows the Town has had a goal (for residents and visitors alike) of ‘walkability, quality of life, and access to amenities that are available to everybody.’ We’re moving things forward, taking opportunities when we have the chance, partnering with DOT, and partnering with other individuals and corporations that want to help with improving quality of life for citizens of Franklin,” Owens concluded.