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Township Council Grilled During Master Plan Town Hall

Mark Healey, the township’s Principal Planner, talks about the Master Plan during a special Town Hall meeting December 12 in the Council Chamber.

Dozens of township residents showed up to a sometimes contentious December 12 town hall meeting on the process behind creating a Master Plan.

The residents came armed with questions, most of them about the meeting’s topic. But there were a few questions that strayed into related topics, such as the current warehouse development controversy.

When those questions were asked, the crowd grew somewhat raucous as the questioners were told that they needed to stay on topic. Several residents also objected when they were told that there speaking time had expired; each person was given one, 4-minute turn at the microphone.

On hand to handle the bulk of the speaking during the meeting was Mark Healey, the township’s principal planner. Healey took the crowd through the basics of a Master Plan, explaining that it serves to focus a town’s planners on future development, housing and other community related matters.

The plan, Healey explained, contains a number of elements, including land use and housing, and can contain elements such as historic preservation farmland preservation and open space preservation.

The Master Plan can be updated when a town feels it is necessary, but must be updated at least once every 10 years.

The meeting’s purpose, Healey said, was to provide explanations so “all the citizens can hear and understand what the Master Plan is so this can aid in the everybody’s participation in the process.”

One of the contentious issues in the warehouse development debate is the issuance of variances by the Planning and Zoning boards. Variances are waivers from the township’s zoning ordinances.

Debbie Stuart asked Healey why variances are granted at all.

“Why would you ever allow something that shouldn’t be there to be there?” she asked. “Why would you allow things that you obviously have put a lot of time into prohibiting to be put into place?”

After explaining what variances are and the criteria behind their approval, Healey said, “There are a lot of times when a variance … makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of times when it’s the applicant wants what they want, and there isn’t a lot of justification.”

Council members initially struggled over their answer to a question posed by several residents: what is the Council’s “vision” for Franklin?

Mayor Phil Kramer said he has “multiple visions” for the township.

“My vision is keep taxes as low as possible, get as much open space preserved as possible,” he said.

“We each have a plan in our minds of what we want to do and want we want to go for,” Kramer said. “The fact that the town doesn’t have one written out, I don’t think that’s a huge negative.”

Township Councilman James Vassanella (D-Ward 5) said that all Council members have visions for the township.

“Is there a two- or three-page document that summarizes it? No, and I think we should have one,” Vassanella said. “That’s what tonight is all about, trying to find good ideas to bring all of our desires for the town with input from the community.”

Deputy Mayor Crystal Pruitt (D-At Large) whose idea it was to hold the town hall, said she was getting the message that the Council was not communicating its message well to residents.

“I think the community feels there’s not clarity on where things are going,” she said. “I think it may be something that we as a body need to digest.”

“I hear what you are saying, and I’m resonating with that, because there is a clarity to that and there is a comfort to that,” she said. “I think it’s something we need to digest as a body and perhaps do a better job of communicating outwards as we move forward and make decisions, so the community feels they understand the decisions we’re making and why we’re making those.”

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