Franklin city officials are unsure if a proposed three-story facility that offers drug rehabilitation and mental health programming and houses offenders who are able to leave for work can fit on a less than 2-acre parcel.
County officials are asking for a building to be constructed on an undeveloped corner of Drake and Hospital roads, which the county already owns. The building would include community corrections, career placement opportunities and mental health, alcohol and drug abuse programming.
The building would replace the current community corrections facility at 1071 Hospital Road, which houses an average of about 65 offenders per day. Other county services would be relocated from the east annex on the corner of Jefferson and Water streets.
But Franklin city officials said they think the structure is too large to fit on the 1.8-acre property, and that it doesn’t have enough space for parking or landscaping to fulfill city requirements, according to the Franklin city staff report.
County officials have asked for the new building to be allowed on the property, since it would be close to the jail, hospital, and adult and child services. But Franklin city planners say the building does not meet three city codes, including the type of use for that property, the required amount of parking spaces and enough of a landscape buffer between the structure and a residential neighborhood.
The community corrections program and building is operated by county government, and the new facility would need three Franklin city boards to OK bypassing the three requirements and allow the building to be constructed. If the Franklin Board of Zoning Appeals denies the county’s variance requests, officials will have to wait a year before asking again.
Franklin city planners and Johnson County Council member Rob Henderson say the county should consider a different location for the community corrections center, since the property is too small for the building and backs up to the West Parke subdivision.
Johnson County Commissioner Ron West said the county has not considered another location. The new facility should be near the jail, since meals are walked over from the jail to offenders in the current community corrections building. And if an offender needs to go to the hospital, they can walk to Johnson Memorial Health instead of needing a vehicle, since most offenders do not have a car or license, West said.
One main issue that county and city officials disagree on is the number of parking spots needed for the new building. County officials insist fewer than 70 spots would be needed on a daily basis, due to the number of employees and how many offenders would have a car. But due to the size of the structure, Franklin city planners say the building requires at least 172 parking spots, which the property does not have enough room for.
In the proposed plan, 42 parking spots would be located on the property, and another county parking lot across the street would provide an additional 87 parking spots for employees and people visiting the building, West said.
Franklin city planners said any nearby parking that is not on the property has to be within 500 feet of the building. In the county’s proposed plans, the other parking lot is more than 700 feet away.
City officials said they are not opposed to the programming that would be offered in the facility.
Board of zoning appeals member the Rev. Richard Martin said he is hesitant to approve the proposal due to the size of the building and the property.
“It seems to me, when I drive around, you’re trying to put too much building on too small a parcel,” Martin said. “That just keeps coming up to me as that’s a difficult proposition because the programming sounds excellent. I would back it 110 percent.”
Since the county announced this location last year, Henderson had concerns about this property being turned into a community corrections building, he said. Instead, the county should consider building a new structure outside of city limits and finance the building by selling this piece of land and the former Key Bank building, which the county is currently using for the alcohol and drug and probation programs, in downtown Franklin, he said.
“Constructing a facility in a different location — less residential, not within city limits — could be done substantially cheaper,” Henderson said.
Supporters of the proposed facility say that this type of programming is needed in Franklin immediately.
By building this structure, Franklin could be a leader for other communities to use as an example of turning offenders into taxpaying citizens, Franklin attorney Andy Baldwin said.
“What people may not know is we have a very, very great system in place in Johnson County. What they may not know also, and what I’ve learned over the years, is that the problem that we have with drugs and mental health issues is not going away,” he said.
The board of zoning appeals tabled a vote on the three variance requests until their May meeting.