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Town of Franklin sets public hearing for social district despite commissioner’s inaction

Last updated on January 3, 2024

By Kristin Fox

Since February, the Franklin Town Council has discussed the idea of creating a social district for downtown Franklin. At their meeting this week, the town council decided to move forward with pursuing the creation of a social district.

The board voted unanimously to hold a public hearing to receive input from the community, residents, and business owners as the next step toward creating a social district. Although it is not required to hold a public hearing the board wanted to let the public have the opportunity to express their opinion about establishing a social district.

“It is not required to hold a public hearing, but I think it is the best practice to let the public have their say about it especially if there are opinions on both sides, it would be a good idea to have it,” said Town Attorney John Henning.

We have talked about this since February, and I think we have enough information to move on to the nextstep, said Vice Mayor Stacey Guffey, who went on to make a motion to hold a public hearing. Town Council Member Mike Lewis seconded the motion.

The public hearing will be held at 6:05 p.m. or as close to thereafter on Tuesday, January 2, 2024 in the council meeting room downstairs Town Hall. The public is encouraged to attend the public hearing.

Town Manager Amie Owens explained what a social district is. 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 ontheir 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).

“Social districts are a way to increase economic development, bring in more revenue for restaurants and decrease wait time for restaurants,” said Owens. “Many people just hang out at a restaurant to finish their beverage; if they could take it with them, restaurants could roll those tables over more often, and there would be less waiting time for customers.”

The proposed social district in Franklin would be from 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Sunday. The social district would only include downtown sidewalks and businesses that have given permission for alcoholic beverages. Main street would not be included in the social district, only the Main Street sidewalks would be included in the social district.

We have to comply with several things if you do opt for a social district including special branded cups thathave to be purchased from participating restaurants,” said Owens. “People cannot carry a bottle of beer around on the sidewalk. That is not what a social district is all about.

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.

Last month, Town Council Member David Culpepper, Guffey and Owens attended the Macon County Board of Commissioners meeting to present the idea of a social district in downtown Franklin including county property located in town specifically the gazebo square, Rankin Square and the clock tower square.

Without discussing or giving a reason, Macon County commissioners decided not to allow Franklin to use county property for its proposed social district. With no response from commissioners, the idea to incorporate county property in the social district died.

After the county commissioners decided not to allow Franklin to use county property for its proposed social district, the town modified the social district map eliminating all county property.

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.

Culpepper expressed his wish to see the other two town alleyways by Ratskeller and Outdoor 76 be included in the social district. However, Owens told the council that both alleyways are not owned by the town, and permission would have to be granted by the property owners to allow the alleyways to be included in the social district. If the property owners give permission for their property to be included in the social district, this could be set up with a memorandum of understanding or an easement with the town.

Owens also stated that events can opt out of the social district if they don’t want alcoholic beverages at their events.

If there is a special event, such as Pumpkinfest or Winter Wonderland, and event planners do not want alcohol at the event and they filed for permission to close the street during that period of time, the social district will be suspended for that event,” said Owens. “It would be up to the event sponsor to make that known to all participants. When an entity closes a street, it becomes theirs during that designated time of the event.”

“On the converse side of that, an event like the 80’sflashback may have mobile vending or events at the brewery and would want to allow alcohol to be carried in the social district,” added Owens. This would be allowed with all social district rules required to be followed during the event.”

Similarly, 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.

Following the public hearing, if the town decides to move forward with a social district, the next steps would be to create a logo for the social district, complete required signage, provide education to the public and merchants and complete the state application. The town will also have to file a map of the identified social district with the ABC to keep on file.

The town has received some feedback concerning the creation of a social district. The town has received five correspondences expressing their opposition to having a social district. Over the last few months, several downtown merchants have attended town council meetings and spoke out in favor of the social district during the public comment period.

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