Hill Property Affordable Housing Project Moves Forward

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While the discussion of building an affordable and workforce housing development on The Hill property in downtown Franklin has been ongoing since 2014, peaking in 2018 with a change in zoning, it looks as if there now will be some movement forward.

Located off of Fifth Avenue North in downtown Franklin, the property butts up against Toussaint L’Ouverture and Mt. Hope cemeteries to the west, is across from the Bicentennial Park, and above the Sonic Drive-In. Roughly five acres in size, the city-owned property has been used for many things, from a public works garage and trash collection station to a smallpox quarantine house in the late 1800s. It has stood vacant for a number of years.

At a recent Franklin BOMA meeting, a resolution was passed to change the name of the Third Avenue extension to Martin Luther King Junior Avenue, and the entrance to “The Hill” Property to A.N.C. Williams Way. A. N. C. Williams was prominent African American merchant and community leader in Williamson County, who was born into slavery in Spring Hill in 1844.

With the cost of housing going through the roof, the city of Franklin amped up discussion of the issue of affordable housing and at least two other projects, including Cherokee Place, are underway as they continue to work on how to develop the Hill property. According to a story on Community Impact, “Cherokee Place, an affordable housing complex to be located along Cherokee Place and Shawnee Drive, will feature multiple multifamily buildings and townhouses with units ranging from one to five bedrooms, according to proposed plans from the FHA.”

Unlike the Cherokee Place project, the Hill Project has a number of issues involved that are making it more expensive. Where the Cherokee Place project will be tearing down an old housing project and putting the land to better use, the Hill land has a co-owner that would be entitled to almost half a million dollars of the estimated $1.23 million value of the land. The co-owner is the city’s water utility, which is a separate organization.

Another sticking point is the changing rules for how to make a bid for development, and the missing of deadlines due to the amount of time it has taken for a consensus on what to do with the property. But after four years of wrangling, the Board of Mayor and Alderman seem to finally all be on the same page.

In a recent story in the Williamson Herald, Ward 2 Alderman Dana McLendon, whose ward the project falls under, was quoted as saying, “I’ve seen it as sort of the laboratory, the crucible in which we can do this. If we do it right, it’s the model in which we can show people, ‘This is what we can do’. I’m not saying we’ll get it right, or perfectly right. But if not now, when, and if not there, where?”

Several groups have shown interest in developing the property, including a partnership called Hill LLC which includes Williamson County Community Housing Partnership, Habitat for Humanity of Williamson and Maury County, Hard Bargain Association and the Franklin Housing Authority. They had proposed a community center run by FrankTown Open Hearts and up to 37 housing units, but their proposal hit a bump when the almost half a million dollars for the land came into play.

Concern over affordable housing has been mentioned in every study and survey the city has put out since the one that got the ball rolling in 2014. With the formation of a study group on the project forming, hopefully things will move forward this year.