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Franklin Council approves Social Districts for downtown area

Nearly a year after the town of Franklin first began discussions of creating a social district in downtown Franklin, following public input sessions, data gathering, and extensive research, the Town Council unanimously voted to approve the measure following a public hearing during Tuesday night’s monthly meeting.

Social districts are designated areas where people can consume alcoholic beverages. Social districts have been approved by the legislation since 2021. Currently, there are 38 municipalities in North Carolina that have social districts, with some large municipalities having multiple social districts based on their size. Sylva is the closest town to Franklin to have a social district. Social districts are regulated by state law as well as the Alcohol Beverage Commission (ABC).

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed bipartisan House Bill 980 in the Fall of 2022, paving the way for municipalities across the state to establish social districts in clearly designated areas — in those areas, patrons would be allowed to move around freely, with a cup of alcohol. House Bill 890 allows for patrons to leave bars, restaurants, and breweries with a to-go cup, walk around downtown, and visit stores that don’t object.

According to Franklin leaders, the primary goals of the Social District is to:

1. To attract citizens and visitors to the downtown leading to increased foot-traffic and provide new revenue opportunities for restaurants and retail establishments.

2. To develop new opportunities for social events such as festivals, music and food trucks.

The approved social district in Franklin will be from 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Sunday. The social district will only include downtown sidewalks and businesses that have given permission for alcoholic beverages. Main street will not be included in the social district, only the Main Street sidewalks are included in the social district. The proposed district area would run from Town Hall down both sides of Main Street to the intersection of Porter Street to include Lazy Hiker Brewing, Stewart Street and the connection alleyway, Phillips Street where it connects Stewart to Main, Iotla Street to the alleyway at Crabtree General Store.

The Franklin Town Hall is included in the social district for public restroom access, but alcohol would not be allowed in any other part of the Town Hall building, parking areas or lawn.

The new law also explains that participating towns have to clearly mark the social district with signage and alcohol would have to be served in a cup that is no more than 16 ounces. Cups cannot be glass and must be marked in some way to indicate the origin of sale, the social district logo, as well as with the words “drink responsibly — be 21.”

Cups must be marked clearly, dated, and signed off on by the various providers of the cups. The town also has to provide a map outlining the social district including signage as well as easily identifiable logos so people know where alcoholic beverages are allowed.

Downtown merchants can opt out of participating in the social district. If a downtown retail establishment wants to allow alcohol to be brought into their business, it would be clearly marked with the display of the social district logo giving their permission to bring alcohol into their store. If a business wants to opt out and not allow alcohol in their place of business, they would not have the logo displayed signifying that alcohol is not allowed in their establishment.

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