PHOTO: Design documents show the concept for the main lodge facility for the new Refuge Center project, proposed to be built on Long Lane in Franklin
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
Residents of Ladd Park in Franklin and surrounding subdivisions are speaking out against a proposed Refuge Center for Counseling facility that would be built on Long Lane, just behind the AG Expo Center, citing traffic, commercial development and safety concerns.
The Refuge Center for Counseling is a nonprofit mental-health organization that provides affordable counseling to those in need.
The proposed 15,000 square foot facility would include multiple buildings, including a lodge with 32 counseling offices, a prayer labyrinth, and 4 acres of walking trails, and would be able to “provide over 36,000 counseling sessions each year,” according the Refuge Center Website.
Regarding the traffic concerns, residents fear the cited 36,000 annual visits could create major traffic and safety problems for members of the surrounding communities, which residents say can already be a hassle during peak traffic hours.
“We have a hard time with traffic up here at the intersection with Long Lane, and I think it’d be a bad influence on the traffic coming in and out of there,” said Thomas Glenn, a resident of Ladd Park for six years. “It sounds like a good thing for kids to have that kind of counseling, but that’s not the location for it. I think it’s going to create traffic accidents, that’s my bottom line.”
An online petition has also been started, asking residents for their opinion on the proposed facility, which has received over 400 signatures since its creation on Wednesday.
Another major concern among residents is the fear of the project setting a new precedent for the city regarding commercial development.
The property the Refuge Center is hoping to build its new facility on is currently zoned for residential, and is an unincorporated area of Williamson County. The Refuge Center is currently in the process of buying the property and requesting it to be annexed into Franklin city limits, while also asking that it be rezoned for civic and institutional use.
Residents have expressed concerns that if city officials allow for the annexation and rezoning of the property, it will open the floodgates for other commercial developers to seek similar rezoning requests, under threat of legal action taken against the city.
“I’m sure it’d be nice, but the traffic as it is with the way it’s growing right now is going to be crazy,” said Jonathan Gray, a resident of Ladd Park for four years. “I’d prefer it not to go in there, but we’ll see what happens.”
Due to the public outcry, Refuge Center staff held an open meeting in Franklin on Thursday to clear the air and quell some of the misinformation that’s been spreading among the community.
Carl Roberts, who sits on the board of directors for the Refuge Center, said the nonprofit organization had been searching for the right property for its new facility for approximately four years, and had looked at well over 40 different potential locations during the process.
“It strikes me that a lot of people are fearful because they don’t understand exactly who we are and what we’re doing,” Roberts said. “Initially, there was the rumor that we were going to be an overnight facility. We are just a day facility, and we will not ever be an overnight facility.”
Regarding the traffic concerns, Roberts said that the traffic study the Refuge Center will be required to conduct if approved for construction will help the project realize the least traffic-disturbing solution, and could potentially see a turn lane constructed on Long Lane.
“In terms of the traffic, I think that’s been misleading, because if you break (the 36,000 annual visits) down into the number of days, and if a family of four or five comes in to be seen, that’s counted as four or five people, but it’s one car,” Roberts said. “So you can’t just say that there’s 35,000 or 34,000 people. Yeah, there’s going to be some additional traffic, but the subdivisions that are going in further down Long Lane are going to add more traffic than the Refuge Center is.”
The aesthetics of the facility were also a common topic discussed among residents, who fear the loss of the dense trees along Long Lane would hurt the scenic value of the community. During the meeting, architect JC Elder from Bauer Askew Architecture shared design documents of the proposed facility, which showed that the project would only carve into the middle of the wooded area, with only a small break in the tree line along Long Lane to accommodate the entrance.
The timeline of the project was also a cause of concern, with some residents fearing construction on the Refuge Center to be imminent. Refuge Center staff explained during the meeting that the organization is only requesting annexation of the property at the moment, a process that can take anywhere from 6 – 12 months, and three public readings by Franklin city staff.
Refuge Center staff also noted that the property is within Franklin’s urban growth boundary, meaning the city has already shown interest in potentially annexing and developing the area for future urban development.
The Franklin Board of Mayor and Alderman will be holding a first reading of the Refuge Center’s request to annex the property during the non-voting meeting at Franklin City Hall at 5 p.m. on December 11. The meeting is open to the public, and will allow for the opportunity for public comments.
Franklin City Hall is located at 109 3rd Avenue South, Franklin, TN 37064.