Franklin council OKs Fairfield Inn after design changes

From sports tournaments to large events like the recent Google Summit, people traveling to Franklin don’t have many options for a local place to stay — but that will soon change.

An $8 million Fairfield Inn will be built on the north side of King Street, just west of Interstate 65, and will be ready as early as next summer.

The final step to begin the building process was to get approval from the city board of zoning and appeals for the four-story, 81-room hotel, which passed Wednesday unanimously, but not without controversy. If weather permits, the hotel will be built by mid-2018. Two chain restaurants are planning to come to the area as well, but names of the restaurants have not been released.

City rules call for buildings in Franklin to be no taller than 45 feet. However, the hotel would be about eight feet taller than the allowed height. The hotel would also use a building material other than the stone or brick allowed under city rules on a majority of the building.

Initially, city planning staff had recommended denying the requests, but then the developers made changes. In a new report, city staff recommended approval if, instead of using the material on 95 percent of the building, the amount was lowered to no more than 62 percent. City staff also recommended keeping trees on the border of the property in place and also adding a buffer to separate the hotel from nearby homes.

More than two dozen people attended the meeting this week, speaking both for and against the project.

Mitzi Martin, who lives in Franklin, said she understands the need for a hotel, but wants the design and height to fit in with the historical aspects of Franklin.

“We need a hotel, but not just any quality hotel,” she said. “We need something more akin with what our leaders wanted in this historical city — not one that will impact unnecessarily on our residents.”

Dave Dowden has lived in his house for 15 years, which will now be directly behind the new hotel. The project will be devastating to those who live behind the property who didn’t plan to have a large building in their backyard, he said.

“I’m just a property owner trying to protect my privacy, quality of life and investment in my home,” he said.

Dowden was one of more than a dozen residents of the Fairway Lakes neighborhood, which is directly behind the property, who came to show they did not support the project. Residents wrote letters to the city, explaining their concerns with the new hotel, which included the height being an invasion of privacy, as well as a lack of need for a fourth hotel off I-65.

But not all residents of the neighborhood were opposed to the project.

“As a homeowner in Fairway Lakes, I am not concerned that my value is going to decline because of this,” Bob Heuchan said. “I believe it is favorable for the city and our neighborhood.”

Heuchan, a council member and a member of the redevelopment commission, denied the proposal to build apartments because he believed it wouldn’t benefit the city as much as a hotel. Heuchan and other supporters said they believe the hotel will attract more restaurants and high-end businesses.

Among those in support were Mayor Steve Barnett and Director of Tourism for Journey Johnson County Ken Kosky.

“There comes a time when you have to do what feels right for the people of the city,” Barnett said. “This is an upscale hotel and we need it for the economic development of our city.”

Barnett said he has talked to restaurant chain owners in the past and they told him they are not interested in coming to the east side of the city until there is another hotel.

Residents, coaches at local schools and the president of Franklin College all have said there is a need for hotels in the area, Kosky said.

“The president of Franklin College, he has conferences, and he is sending people a 30- or 40-minute drive away to stay,” Kosky said. “We have other businesses investing millions of dollars to attract people but those people will have nowhere to stay.”