Residents are being asked to look into Franklin’s future and help create a master plan to guide land-use decisions for the next 10 to 20 years.
Members of the town’s Master Plan Committee, which is preparing the document that will become the blueprint for decision-making, asked the handful of residents in attendance at the first of two scheduled public hearings about their vision for the town.
“We want to find out from the community what type of town they want us to be,” said Town Councilor Jeff Roy, chairman of the Master Plan Committee.
“Some people may want more development, some more open space,” Roy said. “Some want more parks or ballfields; some say there’s enough of those. But we have to come to a consensus; that is what this process is all about.”
The Master Plan Committee is working toward putting a completed document before the Town Council for a vote in June 2013, according to Roy, who said his aim is to produce a plan that is actually agreed upon and used.
Once adopted by the Town Council, Roy said, the plan will serve as a guide to planning in seven key areas: economic development; traffic; housing; land use; community service; open space and recreation; and natural, cultural and historic resources.
“We have to set the goals for the community, and then we’ll develop the map to get us to those goals,” Roy said.
At the public hearing May 9, the priorities for those attending were revitalizing downtown and preserving open space as parks and for community gardening.
Residents also want to make sure the committee adds provisions to the plan so that, after it has been in use for some time, the town looks at what steps were taken and whether the intended goal was achieved.
Jeff Harris, a resident of Franklin for 12 years, asked Roy and town planning director Bryan Taberner about the community’s identity.
“Is Franklin a college town?” he asked. “Or is it a bedroom community with a two-year college in it?”
And, he asked, can downtown become a destination, with boutiques and restaurants to draw people from other area towns?
Franklin’s downtown is in the midst of a revitalization project that over the next two years will return traffic to a two-way pattern along Main Street, and add street lamps and other aesthetic features, Taberner said.
Eileen Mason, another Franklin resident and a commercial real estate agent in town, said that even with the planned improvements, marketing properties in downtown is tougher than it may appear.
“The demographics of Franklin just don’t cut it,” she said, especially with larger retailers looking for more population density and foot traffic.
Taberner agreed, saying that Franklin’s downtown “in general is not a major destination to people who want to invest a lot of money.”
But Harris suggested looking at smaller types of investments, such as marketing the area to young, innovative chefs interested in opening small, 40- to 50-seat restaurants, and to clothing designers or artists just starting out who may find the right space in the downtown area near Dean College.
He also suggested that the Master Plan Committee take a look at the Narrows Center for the Arts, located in an old warehouse in Fall River.
“It’s a really neat place, and it’s always packed.” Harris said. “We have those kinds of buildings here.”
For Franklin resident Amy Acevedo, preserving open space is a priority.
She said she has eyed a particular piece of land off Grove Street adjacent to the Franklin State Forest, with the dream of having the town purchase it to use as a park.
Taberner said the town has been interested in the same property, which has been on sale for some time.
“It is one of the few industrial-zoned properties that are left in town,” he said, adding that the value of the land is too high for the town to acquire at this time.
A draft master plan was completed in 1997, according to Roy, but it was never adopted by the Town Council.
This time, he wants to make sure the plan is adopted and includes implementation goals assigned to the area of town government responsible, such as Town Council, Planning Board, Conservation Commission, or Zoning Board of Appeals.
“The biggest commitment of this group is that at the first meeting we agreed that it does no good to have this plan if nothing is ever done with it,” he said.