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Editorial: City leaders must define vision, pick right plan

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It has been more than a decade since Franklin drew up a long-range plan for development. In that time, the city has been devastated by flooding and an economic recession, which reduced growth to a near standstill.

Thus, a long-range plan drawn up to meet a future envisioned in 2002 is not one that meets the needs of the 2013 reality nor the anticipated changes in the city over the next several years.

From 1970 to 1990, the city’s population was steady at about 12,000 people. By 2000, that number had grown to about 20,000. About 2,600 homes were built in Franklin between 1995 and 2010, and the city’s future plans were focused primarily on residential growth.

As former plan commission member Bob Swinehamer put it: “Over the next 10 years we were assuming the boom would continue and get these people moved up from that entry-level to the next level. Then the economy just went down the dumper.”

The city now has to find ways to maintain what’s already built, such as roads and homes, while making specific requirements for the next boom, whether it’s housing or business development, Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

City officials want to focus on three areas — downtown, residential neighborhoods and the city’s Interstate 65 exit. The city plans to continue efforts to improve the look of the downtown and attract new businesses, explore new ways to help homeowners make repairs, such as by providing small grants or starting volunteer organizations, and attracting a new, large anchor business near I-65 and setting specific goals for the type of development that should go there.

Instead of annexing land into the city, officials will focus on ways to fill in vacant lots and get tenants into empty buildings.

The last new subdivision was planned in 2004. Since 2010, 105 houses have been constructed, signalling an end to the residential boom. But the slowdown allows city officials to address challenges from having a larger population, such as increased crime, more roads and sidewalks to maintain and providing new job opportunities for residents.

“It’s given us an opportunity to step back and evaluate all the existing amenities, as well as challenges, and just focus more on the existing areas and developments in some of the older areas and the downtown and make the existing up-to-date,” Franklin community development director Krista Linke said.

The city’s new plans will focus on what is available, such as using land within city limits for homes or new businesses and improving existing buildings, instead of annexing land and sprawling outward, McGuinness said. More than 40 percent of the land zoned for residential growth is vacant, meaning the city should have enough space for the next 10 years.

The city also wants to be more prepared to control what develops, how it is built and where, McGuinness said.

Having a defined vision also will help guide ongoing revitalization projects downtown. Improvements have started on building facades and downtown streets and sidewalks, and next the city needs to start improving neighborhoods along Jefferson and King streets to connect to gateways at U.S. 31 and I-65.

While city officials can draw up a plan for the city, making it work will require buy-in by a broad segment of the community. That’s why it is vital that people speak up.

The Franklin Plan Commission will host a public hearing to discuss the comprehensive plan at 7 p.m. Tuesday in city hall, 70 E. Monroe St. The city council will discuss and adopt the plan after that. You can read the draft version of the plan on the city’s website, www.franklin.in.gov.

Take the time to comment, either during the hearing or by contacting city officials directly.

The city is drawing up a road map meant to guide the community for the next several years. It is vitally important that local leaders have the confidence that they are leading the city in a direction most residents think is best.

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