Franklin and Residential Real Estate and Development/Redevelopment and Johnson County and Regional News and Government & Economic Development and Real Estate & Retail

Franklin residents still struggle with solution for flooded land

April 25, 2010

The land left behind after flood-damaged homes in Franklin are torn down should be turned into walking trails dotted with flowers and trees, one city resident said.

Soccer fields would be another choice, as long as they don't bring too much traffic, another resident said.

A field of wildflowers with a bubbling fountain would provide residents a place to read or spend time with family, Franklin's parks director said.

Community members want to see the buyout area transformed into a peaceful place where people can relax and not be reminded of the devastating flood that resulted in the homes being torn down.

The first group of houses in the buyout is slated to be demolished in late April, but the entire project is expected to take about 18 months, Mayor Fred Paris said.

That gives the city more time to make a decision about what to do with the land, he said.

Paris has tasked the city's parks department with offering suggestions of what should be done with the area south of Greenlawn Cemetery along South Street, which is where the majority of the 74 wrecked homes sit. (The flood also has opened up several redevelopment opportunities with civic buildings and business-owned properties, as detailed by IBJ in March.)

Although grant money will pay for leveling the ground and planting grass, the city will be responsible for mowing, trimming and any other maintenance that's required.

Federal rules say that the land can never be built on or sold. Trails can be added, but no more than 15 percent of the land can be covered with a hard surface.

Land left over when a few homes on Jefferson Street are demolished could serve as an outlet for storm water when the city reroutes nearby Roaring Run ditch, Paris said.

Another idea is turning that space into an eco-friendly parking lot so downtown merchants and shoppers have more places to park, Paris said.

Whatever is done with the land, the end result should be a tranquil place that doesn't remind people of the flood, Hemphill Street resident Sue Spurr said.

She and her husband, Harvey, will live in the only remaining house on the street once the rest of the homes are knocked down. Their home is on the south end of the street, atop a hill where the couple stayed nearly dry during the June 2008 flood.

Spurr wants to make sure that the buyout area remains quiet, instead of the site for a large playground or athletics fields.

"It would be nice to have flower gardens so people could relax and take a load off," she said.

Walking trails would be a good choice for the area, since it's right across the street from the cemetery and near the Greenway Trail, resident Jaime Harshman said.

She's in the process of having her 1890s-era home on South Street elevated so she can move back.

Harshman also hopes the homes can be torn down without having to remove the trees that line the streets, or that more trees are planted.

The city could hire a consultant to come up with a design for the land, parks director Chip Orner said. Initial ideas include a fountain with a plaque that describes the June 2008 flood, surrounded by a field of wildflowers that are easy to maintain, he said.

Orner envisions the area as a place for people to relax with a book or take a walk, he said.

But before it's tranquil, the area will be bustling with workers and heavy machinery as the homes are torn down.

The city won't bulldoze homes in the buyout, but instead will have workers carefully remove siding, doors, windows and any other materials that can be salvaged and donated to non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity, Paris said.

Two project supervisors have already been hired as part of a $450,000 Indiana Department of Workforce Development grant the city has been awarded.

The grant will be enough for 28 workers, who apply for the jobs through the WorkOne office in Franklin, Paris said. Franklin could also be eligible for additional grant money as the project progresses, he said.

Buyouts in other communities have taken two to three years, but Paris hopes to the city's buyout will be done in 18 months. The goal could be a reality if homes continue to be purchased at the pace they are now, he said.

The city has officially closed on one flood-damaged home, senior planner Joanna Myers said. An additional eight flood victims have accepted offers made by the city, and two other offers are still pending, she said.

So far, all of the flood victims have been satisfied with the offers made by the city, which are determined using the average of two appraisals, Myers said. Flood victims can pay for a third appraisal if they think the offer isn't fair.

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