Franklin schools, city disagree on school proposal for practice fields, parking

A proposal to convert some land adjacent to the new Franklin High School on East Sixth Street for school uses hit a roadblock last week during the city’s Planning Commission meeting.

The Franklin City School District wanted to turn the land where a Save-A-Lot grocery, another store, and some residential properties once stood at the corner of East Sixth and Anderson streets into a 100-car parking lot and athletic, band and physical education practice fields. The district purchased the land in 2021 to eventually be used as part of the new high school campus.

Prior to the completion of the new high school, the former grocery store was used by construction crews for material storage and related uses.

The Planning Commission last week voted 4-2 against the proposal, saying it did not comply with the city’s Downtown Master Plan.

The city staff report recommended the proposal be denied because, “The proposed revision to construct a parking lot that abuts East Sixth Street and Anderson Street does not conform with the recommendations of the Downtown Franklin Master Plan, which includes discouraging street front parking as a high priority action item for the Mixed Use Planning Area.”

The staff comment also said, “As new development, redevelopment, and infill development occurs within the district, promote active street fronts with parking areas to the side and rear of the building. Additionally, the Mixed Use Planning Area is envisioned to be a dynamic, walkable district that includes a variety of uses which provide an attractive and engaging gateway into Downtown Franklin. The parking lot at the proposed location does not support this vision.”

However the Planning Commission took a second vote to table the matter in case the Franklin Board of Education wants to discuss changes that would satisfy the city. The lot will remain undeveloped while solutions are considered, according to Superintendent Michael Sander.

“We are disappointed by the planning commission’s decision to deny our proposed plans,” Sander said. “The safety and well-being of our students are our utmost priorities, and this decision represents a setback in our efforts to create a safer environment for our students. The denial of the proposal is a missed opportunity to enhance the overall educational experience of our students and improve the infrastructure of the district.”

He said the district may consider taking the issue to the city Board of Zoning Appeals for review.

With the construction of new facilities, Sander said the district lost two flexible outdoor spaces that were used by both students and community members: one behind the old Fourth Street facility where the modular campus and bus garage are now, and one where the new high school is situated.

Sander said the district is in support of Franklin’s downtown redevelopment plans, and the proposed landscaping plan for the lot included perimeter-buffering landscaping along East Sixth and Anderson streets, using evergreen shrubs and a four-foot-high, decorative metal fence with masonry piers matching the color and style of the high school.

He said the school board remains committed to exploring alternatives and making informed decisions that maximize student safety above all else. The district will continue to engage with city officials.

City Manager Jonathan Westendorf said the land under consideration was purchased as a commercial property and was not part of the original site plan for the new high school.

He also said future uses for that property were never officially discussed between the school district and city officials until the proposal came before the Planning Commission for the first time last Wednesday.

Because of that, the property was not excluded for civic use, which is an exemption from the Downtown Master Plan, he said. In addition, Westendorf said the proposed parking lot should not abut East Sixth Street, according to the plan.

Westendorf said the “cleanest” solution would be for the school district to rezone the entire parcel and resubmit the proposal. He said that is why the Planning Commission voted to table the request.

Sander said the issue was to be discussed at Monday night’s school board meeting.

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