The application for the two hotels proposed on Whiskey Road at Stratford Drive was rejected by Aiken City Council on Monday evening at its regular meeting.
The the final reading of the concept plan was denied by a 3 to 2 vote – Councilmen Dick Dewar, Reggie Ebner and Steve Homoki opposed it. Councilwoman Lessie Price and Councilman Don Wells were not present.
The problem wasn’t with the two proposed hotels themselves, which would have been a Staybridge Suites and a Holiday Inn Express that would have 185 rooms combined. Some of the Council members and residents who expressed concern at the meeting found issue with the layout of the plan, which had an outlet onto Whiskey and another on Stratford.
Stratford Hall, Spring Stone and Spring Stone Villas, which have more than 200 homes combined, are located near the site of the proposed hotels. Stratford Drive is the only outlet from these neighborhoods, and residents were concerned with how the traffic from the hotels would affect the service of that road.
Some residents suggested a frontage road, and others asked why there just couldn’t be two outlets onto Whiskey.
“There are more alternatives, and I think we need to be more far reaching on our research before coming to a decision,” said Spring Stone Homeowners Association President Richard Mason.
Hass & Hilderbrand’s Tilden Hilderbrand, representing the developer, said that, if they got approval from the city, they would then have to go through the S.C. Department of Transportation, which he said had more stringent regulations, and would most likely not allow two outlets onto Whiskey Road.
Hilderbrand added that the outlet off of Stratford was “critical” to the project and would be the access point for emergency vehicles. He said, at the beginning of the meeting, that it would be used for service vehicles only, and there would be signage to reflect that.
Others didn’t see an issue with the outlet on to Stratford at all. Resident Clarence Beehler sat at the intersection of Stratford Drive and Whiskey Road for two hours on a Wednesday in September from 4:15 to 6:15 p.m. He said that he counted 128 vehicles turned onto Stratford from Whiskey and 76 turned off of Stratford onto Whiskey. He said he saw no more than four vehicles sitting at the light at one time, and there was 45 seconds to one minute and 16 seconds in time between traffic signal changes.
“I don’t see a problem with any traffic,” he said.
Others opposed the project completely. Resident Gerry Unverzagt got 185 signatures from residents living all around the city on a petition against the hotels. He said some people told him that Aiken didn’t need anymore hotels, and others didn’t understand why so many projects are proposed on Whiskey Road when it’s already so busy. He said he’s all for commercial growth but that the city needed to consider projects in other parts of town.
When the public hearing concluded, council members were conflicted, all seemingly liking the project itself but some felt that the residents’ traffic concerns were valid. Council inquired if a frontage road could be constructed.
Charles Holley, the owner of the property which is about a 30.4-acre tract, said that the hotels would only take up a small portion of the property, and the future is not known for the rest of the land. There was concern that building connective roads on the property could cause complications for future development and that they would rather plan the infrastructure as proposals for the rest of the land came in.
Dewar moved to have the application rejected as it was proposed.
“I certainly liked the project but don’t like the added traffic on Stratford Drive,” Dewar said. “If a frontage road was built, I’d be all for it.”
The applicant, Ashok Patel of Naman Hotels, can return to the Planning Commission with the application at any point if major changes have been made.