PHOTO: Those wearing lime green T-shirts were showing support for annexation and the proposed new location for the Refuge Center for Counseling. / Photos by John McBryde
By JOHN McBRYDE
With the line clearly drawn between those wearing lime green T-shirts and those wearing white with blue lettering, Franklin aldermen voted on second reading Tuesday night to approve annexation of property along Long Lane that would ultimately lead to the development of a new site for the Refuge Center for Counseling.
Several residents on both sides of the issue spoke during the public hearing portion of the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting at City Hall. Those in the green shirts were in support of the annexation and the Refuge Center going in the property, while neighbors wearing white spoke against the plan to annex and basically rezone an area from residential to commercial.
The white T-shirts read “Citizens for Safety & Justice.”
“These are folks in our neighborhood who really believe that this area is not conducive to this type of development, this property in in particular,” Joey Blakley, who lives on Long Lane, said after the vote was taken among aldermen to annex the area. “We just want to protect those folks who are in this small subdivision and keep them from obviously feeling the pain. This area is residential, and unfortunately the city is turning it into mixed use because it’s what it needs to do to gain tax dollars.”
The site proposed to be annexed is 6.99 acres and adjacent to the city of Franklin’s southeastern boundary, immediately east of the Williamson County Agricultural Center. The property is within the city’s urban growth boundary (UGB) and designated in the planning guide titled Envision Franklin as appropriate for regional commerce uses.
“This is not easy for us,” Aldermen Margaret Martin, 4th Ward, said as aldermen discussed the situation before taking the voice vote. “I have a received and carefully read all correspondence on both sides. … I understand about homes and I understand about the need for this counseling center. I hear what every one of you are saying. We are not being insensitive to your needs and wants.”
The board heard from several residents of Long Lane and the nearby Ladd Park neighborhood, most of whom were against the annexation. Those speaking in support of the plan included Jennifer Gillette, co-founder of the Refuge Center, and Michael Bennett, who owns the property with his wife, Denise.
“I just want to make it clear that, if the Refuge Center does anything, it builds people up, it builds our community up, and we mean no harm,” said Nicole Smith, a board member. “I think there are misconceptions about the people we serve… The people we serve are you, the people we serve are me. They’re our colleagues, our friends… We’re going to be good neighbors, and I think that moving to this property will help us in building Franklin up.”
The Refuge Center for Counseling, a nonprofit mental health organization that provides affordable counseling to those in need, has been in Franklin since it opened in 2005. It is seeking to build a new 15,000-square-foot facility that would include multiple buildings, including a lodge with 32 counseling offices, a prayer labyrinth, and four acres of walking trails.