Newly-elected aldermen Barbara McRae and Patti Hallyburton Abel joined the other members of the Franklin Town Board Monday night along with new mayor, Bob Scott.
The new board set to work right away when Town Planner Derek Roland brought to their attention an application to amend the text of the Unified Development Ordinance for Outdoor Display of Goods. The action that would be taken at the meeting would be whether or not to send the application to the Town Planning Board for its consideration and recommendations.
According to Roland, the issue arises from complaints of business owners, especially in “strip centers” or shopping centers where businesses display their products outside.
“A lot of times in doing this, they crowd the store fronts and encroach over on other business owners,” he said. “The business owners are saying that 'it's fine and well to do that but when it starts coming over into my store frontage and impeding traffic that is coming into my business, that's when I have an issue with it.'”
He also stated that as part of the same application, the planning board could look at the issue of outdoor storage, directly referring to complaints of a large wood pile that had been voiced at a previous town meeting.
“This is a zoning regulation and of course we do have zoning in the Town of Franklin. This is not prohibiting the outdoor display of goods in any zoning district. What we are doing is allowing them to display their items outside in a manner that does not impede on another business and in a way that complies with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and is safe for customers and pedestrians walking by the store,” said Roland.
One possible solution would make the ordinance similar to the current sign ordinance for businesses that allows a certain amount of advertising space based on building frontage. Another potential ordinance change would prohibit displays on the sides or backs of buildings and would limit displays to no more than one half of the store front.
“We have looked at the complaints, listened to the merchants and the citizens within the Town of Franklin and we have put together something that we can take to the planning board,” said Roland. “By no means is this a finished product. Tonight you all will need to decide whether it is appropriate to forward to the planning board so that they can get a recommendation back to you.”
Alderman Farrell Jamison made a motion to send the application to the planning board with the motion passing unanimously.
If the planning board recommends that the board adopt the amendment, a public hearing will be held in which those who support or oppose the change may let their opinion be known to the board and members can vote as they see fit. That hearing would likely take place on Feb. 3.
The decision on the ordinance could serve as the new board's first somewhat controversial decision. During the public session, Franklin resident Angela Hubbs Moore opposed the move to change the ordinance. Following the meeting she provided more insight to her opposition.
"It is easy for town government to create zoning regulations to solve problems. Creating and deciding upon regulations is a big part of what they do, but I would say to them, just because you can doesn't mean you should," she said.
"Each new zoning regulation that is put into place is taking away private property rights from the people of Franklin and creating yet another notorious bureaucratic hoop for our small businesses to jump through. Additionally, each new regulation creates a significant need for staff and board time commitments. Initially, dozens of hours are spent writing, editing, discussing, and vetting a regulation. After a regulation is codified, the real time commitment begins. Staff has the responsibility of permitting and/or enforcing the new zoning ordinance indefinitely."
She says that many of the aldermen candidates from the last election cycle asked for help in regards to small business, but questions how more regulations can be helpful. In regards to the complaints from business owners, she suggests an alternative to potential ordinance changes.
"If people come into the town offices to complain about outdoor display of goods, our staff could suggest speaking with landlords, informing neighbors if there is an ADA violation, and ultimately resorting to the court system," she said. "Isolated businesses encroaching upon others' property rights does not necessitate new regulations. There are already avenues to solve these problems without regulating all businesses, the responsible and irresponsible alike."
The next Board of Aldermen meeting will take place on Jan. 6 at Town Hall.