PHOTO: The city-owned Hill Property lot filled with cars during the Eat the Street Festival on May 4, 2018.//Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
An amendment change to the Envision Franklin land-use plan has been the first step taken toward turning the city-owned Hill Property into an affordable neighborhood.
The property, located at 403 and 405 5th Avenue North, across from Bicentennial Park north of, and up the hill from the Sonic Drive-In, has been unused since the city’s new public works facility opened in the spring of 2014.
Currently zoned for civic and institutional purposes, the city’s long-term land use plan recommends a recreation design concept for the space.
But a shortage of affordable homes in burgeoning Franklin led many to advocate for a workforce neighborhood on the property, thrusting the Hill into the spotlight as illustrative of a greater issue.
A design study earlier this year came up with three options: compact housing, mixed-residential, or recreational space.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, city leaders voted 6-1 on an amendment to Envision Franklin that would change the zoning on the Hill Property to mixed-residential.
Emily Hunter, the director of planning and sustainability, said the option gave the most ability for mixture of housing types. She said the option allows for a civic space in the community, but does not require it.
City Administrator Eric Stuckey said the city received a petition earlier that day from FrankTown Open Hearts, asking for some of the Hill Property space to be allocated so they can have a place to meet.
The organization, a Christian nonprofit with the goal of mentoring inner-city youth, has expressed interest in utilizing some of the property since the beginning of the debate.
Ward 2 Alderman Dana McLendon said he supported the second option, with the caveat that the property have some type of community space.
“The reason I feel strongly about it is because, in my view, that neighborhood needs more community center buildings, structures, infrastructure, not less,” he insisted. “This is almost a unique opportunity.”
“We have the chance, as a city, to create a success story, one that will be a model for what can be done when people pull together and prioritize what’s important. This is that chance,” McLendon said.
Finding another opportunity to create an affordable community with so many proponents and so few “galvanized opponents,” he said, would be difficult.
“If we don’t get it right, it will be an albatross hung around our neck, a failure of community building.”
Ward 2 Alderman Bev Burger said she wanted to be cautious of the types of activities a community organization might bring into the view of the entire neighborhood; she cited one organization’s car repair course as something that might be disruptive to neighbors.
“I want us to be thinking how that looks,” she said.
The dissenting vote came from Ward 4 Alderman Margaret Martin, who has been critical of the density such a neighborhood would bring.
“I don’t think there’s enough land up there to have a neighborhood and a community facility,” Martin said.
Members of the community have showed support for affordable housing throughout the process, including the Hard Bargain Association, the housing commission, and other individuals.
The Williamson County Association of Realtors also supported the initiative, said Government Affairs Director Bo Patten.
“WCAR is thrilled that the Franklin Board of Aldermen took this huge step forward to making attainable housing a reality,” Patten said. “We understand there is still a long way to go, but this is great progress!”
The discussion for the Hill Property begins at 38:45.