As the proposed Open Space Element continues to cause concern and confusion among land owners, developers and even Aiken City Council members, Planning Commissioners are left wondering, “What now?”
After receiving feedback from residents and City Council over the last few months, commissioners discussed their options of how to handle the element at their work session Tuesday afternoon.
Commissioners decided they will draft a letter to City Council to ask what the commission needs to do to get the process moving along in the consideration of the Open Space Element.
Over the last few months, the commission has heard everything from making a few amendments to ditching the plan entirely.
Since the document was drafted and sent to Council for first reading in January, it's been referred back to the commission at least two times.
Some commissioners said the tone of Council maybe has changed since the commission was asked to draft the document more than four years ago.
At least three of the seven current Council members were not serving when the request for the Open Space Element was made.
“Is the interest still there for us to develop an open space element?” asked Commissioner Brendan Doherty at Tuesday's work session.
The intended purpose behind the element is to identify properties around the city as well as plots of land in the county that are in the city's utility service area that could be preserved as green space.
The city has a combined $2.5 million from Local Option Sales Tax money for parks and acquisition of land for open space or greenways. Council asked the commission in 2008 to prepare the Open Space Element, which would be part of the Comprehensive Plan, to help guide the city on how to spend those LOST funds.
Planning Commission Chair Wilkins Byrd said, from what he's gathered from comments made, the language has caused the greatest distress.
At the Oct. 1 work session, which was held specifically to hear from the public and discuss the Open Space Element, concerned residents cited new fees, exactions and regulations they found mentioned in the document.
Others said the Open Space Element would just establish another level of bureaucracy that would possibly complicate and deter future development in the future.
The document does recommend a committee “to help facilitate natural land protection” by recommending property that the City could purchase or acquire conservation easements through negotiation with landowners. The committee would report to the Planning Commission, which, in turn, would make a recommendation to Council.
Commissioners agreed, saying there has been confusion in the public thinking that some of the suggestions made in the element were not voluntary but there is no intent on forcing a property owner into an agreement with the City.
“It doesn't establish any ordinance. It doesn't restrict any development,” said Byrd. “It's a broad statement.”
Commissioner John McMichael said he felt some of the points made by the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce President J. David Jameson at the work session held on Oct. 1 should be considered.
Jameson suggested the element, which is more than 40 pages long, be shortened and more concise.
The goal is to submit the letter to City Council before the next Planning Commission meeting to be held Nov. 13.