Franklin Grove Winstead House

The Perkins-Winstead Mansion at Franklin Grove Estate and Gardens

Parties on both sides of the Franklin Grove Estate and Gardens issue will publicly state their cases once more as the city of Franklin holds its monthly Historic Zoning Commission meeting Monday at City Hall.

By a count of 4-3, commissioners voted at their January meeting to defer the item to what will now be Monday at 5 p.m. Just as it was at last month’s meeting, a sizable crowd is expected to show and many are likely to speak during public comment.

At the core of the controversy is a request for a zoning change by the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, which purchased the campus of the former O’More College of Design at the southeast corner of South Margin Street and Lewisburg Avenue in 2018. In addition to its plan for an art museum, a historic African American segregation-era Rosenwald schoolhouse, and natural gardens and green space, the Heritage Foundation wants to host events on the property. 

To accomplish this, the nonprofit plans to build a new facility and is seeking approval for a zoning change for Franklin Grove from its current Civic Institutional to Planned District. Many downtown Franklin residents have voiced opposition to the proposal for hosting events on the property and, especially, the zoning change.

Franklin Grove No Event Venues sign

Franklin Grove "No Event Venues" signs can be found throughout downtown Franklin.

“[The request for] rezoning is really a bigger deal than [the issue] of an event venue,” said Walter Green, a downtown resident who has led a grassroots effort known as Concerned Neighbors of Franklin Grove.

He has organized the placement of yellow “No Event Venues” signs in yards throughout downtown and started a petition drive that he said has collected more than 1,300 signatures.

“When you start rezoning in the middle of a strictly residential area,” Green continued, “and you start putting a commercial component on that, then that itself is like blood in the water. Other developers will see that as a commercial component in a historical residential area, and it doesn't bode well for the future because other developers will see that as a hotspot and they'll come in and think they can get the same thing for their project.”

In January's meeting, Amanda Rose, Franklin preservation planner who represents city staff on the Historic Zoning Commission, cited several items in the applicant’s plan that didn’t meet historic guidelines for Franklin and ultimately recommended disapproval.

In the weeks that have followed, the Heritage Foundation has made several revisions to its proposal. And last week, the group scored a victory of sorts when the Franklin Board of Zoning Appeals granted a variance for the proposed Hall.

Bari Beasley at Franklin Grove

Bari Beasley, CEO of the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, goes over proposed features of Franklin Grove during a media gathering Friday afternoon.

“We made some pretty significant changes,” said Jill Burgin, the Heritage Foundation’s director of Government Relations and Advocacy. “We don’t know if Amanda is going to recommend approval or not. We’re just looking forward to getting some discussion on it.

“We want this to fit well in the community, and we think we’ve done that. We’ve made a lot of concessions and adjustments based on feedback we’ve gotten from neighbors, city board and staff. We feel like we’ve made a lot of effort to be flexible.

“I can see why there’s concern about it, but we’re hoping to build that trust and that people can trust us to operate this well and make it something everybody can be proud of.”

Seating inside the board room may be limited due to COVID-19 safety measures, but attendees can watch the proceedings on TVs in the City Hall lobby. The meeting can also be viewed remotely on FranklinTV or the city of Franklin website, and can be livestreamed through Franklin’s Facebook and YouTube accounts.

The HZC agenda for Monday’s meeting can be found here.