Over the last few months, a variety of issues have come in front of the Franklin Board of Aldermen and Monday night, Town Attorney John Henning Jr. addressed many of them, giving updates and addressing concerns.
Henning began by discussing the ordinance that restricts the discharge of a firearm inside the city limits to police officers as it pertains to a proposed indoor shooting range that could be established on an Ulco Drive property. Though the board did not have any pressing concerns regarding the range, the current ordinance that is on the books does not allow citizens to shoot guns in the city limits. To allow this, the ordinance would be amended to say: “It shall be unlawful for any person to discharge any gun, pistol, or other weapon within the corporate limits, except: 1) By a peace officer in the performance of his duty; 2) Within an indoor gun range, provided that such range is properly permitted and in full compliance with any applicable laws and regulations of the Town of Franklin, State of North Carolina, and United States.”
The adoption of such an ordinance would allow the range to be established not only on Ulco, but anywhere in a C-2 secondary commercial zone. According to Town Planner Derek Roland, an indoor recreational facility in what is known as a C-2 zone would allow for a shooting range.
Handing out labeled maps to the aldermen, Roland indicated the areas that are considered to be a C-2.
“If you will look at the maps, you'll see that Ulco is a C-2,” he said. “Also on the map, you can see that a large portion of land down the Georgia Road, the Old Murphy Road, the Highlands Road, and Depot Street is considered to be C-2.”
Henning said that if the ordinance was to be amended, a gun range could pop up in any of these areas.
“If you do want to change it, that's fine, you can,” said Henning. “Just know that if you do, this is going to allow these other properties to be used for similar establishments if somebody wants and I don't know how you all feel about that.”
Action was then tabled to allow board members ample time to consider options regarding the future of the ordinance and the proposed gun range.
Internet gaming parlors
Another topic that has been garnering headlines over the last year has been the on-going legal battles over the use of internet gaming machines in North Carolina. Courts have repeatedly struck down their use, but each time, proprietors of the shops that house the machines have found games that do not fall under the legal wording of the decisions that have banned their use.
“Trying to legally define these things is like nailing Jell-o to the wall,” said Henning. “I couldn't begin to tell you what the law is right now because it's all over the place. I think until the courts find a way to develop a definition that encompasses all of them, you may want to consider using zoning to deal with the issue.”
Before the courts got involved with the sweepstakes issues, the town charged fees for owners who ran the parlors, but according to Henning, even that stipulation is up in the air at this point.
“If the board is interested in amending the Unified Development Ordinance to deal with these sweepstakes machines, then Derek (Roland) can pass along the rewording to the planning board for their recommendation,” he said.
A bill has been introduced to the General Assembly that would allow governing bodies to tax operators in accordance to the location and number of machines at the location, but it still has to be passed and then signed in to law. Instead of waiting on a lengthy legislative process, Henning suggested taking the zoning approach.
“My recommendation would be to restrict internet gaming— and we'll have to work with the definition of that somewhat—to C-3 or Industrial Zone Properties,” he said. “I don't know if you want to be that restrictive, but I have the strong inclination that you don't want to see a sweepstakes machine business on Main Street.”
Alderman Farrell Jamison agreed with Hennings' recommendation.
“I think we need to do something because I think it will be back after the last district court ruling,” said Jamison.
Alderman Billy Mashburn made a motion to send the proposal to the planning board who will then give their recommendation of the matter.
According to Henning, the earliest that any sort of ordinance change could go into effect would be July.
No more banners across Main Street
At Monday's Town Board meeting, the aldermen revisited the issue of banners being hung across Main Street. This has been an issue of some concern over the last year among officials and organizations wishing to hang banners across the street to promote local festivals.
In April, town officials discussed the issue at their yearly retreat in hopes of finding some direction for the future in regards to it.
“Personally I feel strongly that if a banner is going to make or break any type of festival then there is something bigger going on,” said Alderman Sissy Pattillo at the retreat. “I don't think anyone should be able to use them.”
Alderman Bob Scott was the first to sound off and in opposition to the rest of the board member, defended the use of the banners.
“If the owners of the properties, of these buildings that the banners are going to be attached to are willing to let these organizations hang them, then I have no problem with it,” he said. “Why are we still trying to block this?”
Pattillo pointed out that they had already discussed the issue at hand and that the members did not like the idea and had directed Town Manager Warren Cabe to proceed with the development of alternative advertisement opportunities for organizations who wished to use said banners.
As the town ordinance is, it says that banners can be used and approved on a case by case basis.
“There are some options that you can consider,” said Cabe. “First, you can leave the ordinance the way it is and look at each case accordingly or direct your staff to develop guidelines for choosing which banners can go up.”
Town Attorney John Henning Jr. expressed his concern for any approach that only allowed some banners to be hung.
“I think you better be careful from a legal standpoint and avoid opening yourself up to claims that you choose to hang some and not others,” he said.
Other options discussed avoided stringing them above the street completely and focused on moving the banners or signs to be displayed on the yard of the Town Hall.
Scott, still defending the use of them cited the historical presence of the banners in Franklin.
“In the ’70s we had them hung up for Operation Heart Beat and again for the Gemboree,” said Scott. “I really think we're seeing a revitalization of downtown. We've got a lot of young people who are ready to shake things up and things like this may slow that down.”
Alderman Billy Mashburn acknowledged that they ended the discussion at the retreat by directing staff members to research the ordinance and possible alternatives and suggested that the board wait on the results and ideas from that research to be returned for discussion.
“It is a safety concern,” said Alderman Farrell Jamison. “When people drive up the hill its just another thing to block their view and when they top the hill there's only a little bit of time to react. I think we need to go ahead and change the ordinance tonight.”
“I don't know if it's what you need to do, but it's probably what you're going to do,” responded Mayor Joe Collins before asking if anybody would like to make a motion.
Alderman Verlin Curtis, who had cited safety concerns in the past, offered up the motion to delete the wording of the ordinance that would allow for banners to be hung across Main Street. The motion passed 4-1, with Scott opposed.