Aiken County is seeking Aiken City utility services for its new complex, currently under construction, but has run into some stumbling blocks in the approval process.
Aiken County has submitted a request for city utilities for its new facility being built at 1930 University Parkway. Such a request is often made by businesses locating near, but not in, the City limits, but the County has added in its application a waiver from an annexation requirement and a landscaping condition that has raised a few red flags with some City officials.
The application review process began Tuesday with the City Planning Commission which was tasked with making a recommendation to Council on whether to approve or deny the request. The recommendation to approve the County’s application was split with a three-to-three vote – Commissioners Brendan Doherty, Terry Provost and Commission Chair Wilkins Byrd opposed. Ed Giobbe was not in attendance.
According to City Manager Richard Pearce, a tie in a vote from the Planning Commission means no recommendation will be presented to Council which is tentatively scheduled to review the County’s request at its next meeting on Oct. 22. Council will still review the application and will decide on whether or not it will be approved.
The Commission was a bit concerned with the requested variances from the annexation policy and the landscaping requirement, both which may or may not be sticking points with City Council.
According to Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian, the County is not requesting to annex into the city limits now but it could be an option later.
However, according to the City’s policy, anyone with property contiguous to the city limits applying for city services is required to be annexed in. That would apply to the new County Complex.
In a memorandum, it reads that City Attorney Gary Smith is hesitant with the idea of allowing a variance in the annexation policy and “ … the impact that may have on future developments.”
In lieu of immediate annexation, the applicant may be required to enter into an agreement with the City to be annexed at a later date, according to policy.
Another area of concern was the proposed buffer between lots on Lincoln Avenue located at the rear of the County Complex property. Even without annexation, a property applying for city services must comply with city zoning regulations regarding landscaping and signage.
One of the conditions set by the City Planning Department that County officials were uncertain about states there be a 25-foot “deep, densely planted evergreen buffer including large trees and fast-growing evergreen shrubbery at least 4 feet tall” be planted between the Lincoln Avenue homes and the complex.
The County has about 50 feet of green space between those homes and the actual location of where the County Complex will be constructed, said Planning Director Ed Evans. Killian said they are planting a buffer but wanted clarification of the condition as well as time to review the impact it would have on the complex project’s budget.
Killian added that the plans for that buffer are more stringent than what the County typically requires.
But the City feels that what’s proposed in the County’s concept plan is deficient to the minimum 10-foot thick evergreen buffer described in the City’s land development regulations under the “lot improvements” section.
“We just want to make sure that they (Lincoln Avenue residents) don’t stand in their backyards and see the parking lot and buildings,” Evans said.
Killian said he wished the City Planning Commission had handed down a recommendation approving the waiver, but understands where the body is coming from.
“We’re going to build and put a nice building out there. We will do as little as we can to negatively impact that neighborhood,” he said.
If Aiken City Council does not approve the waiver, Killian said the County will have to find a way to work with the City in order to get city utilities.
Staff Reporter Haley Hughes contributed to this article.