Aiken City Council voted by majority Monday to approve a request, including an amended landscaping plan, to supply water and sewer services to the County Complex currently under construction, provided the County submit an application for annexation into city limits within 30 days.

After debating the issue – often heatedly – for about an hour, Aiken Mayor Fred Cavanaugh and Councilmembers Gail Diggs, Steve Homoki and Lessie Price voted in favor of approving the request. Councilmen Reggie Ebner and Dick Dewar were opposed. Don Wells was not present as he is now the representative of S.C. House District 81.

Several months ago, the County submitted an application for City utilities for its new office complex on University Parkway but with two variance requests.

The first was that the County not be required to annex into the City of Aiken, which is required by code if a property is contiguous to City limits and the owner applies for utilities. The County has now agreed to submit an annexation application immediately.

The second variance was a request for a waiver from the landscaping ordinance. Those who use City utilities are also asked to follow landscaping plans and sign ordinances.

The County amended the landscaping plan, reducing the size of one of the parking areas and adding the suggested Lingustrums in order to provide a better screen. The revised plan shows 238 Lingustrums and 41 magnolia trees planted in that buffer. A gate at the Lincoln Avenue entrance will also be installed. The County will also comply with City lighting standards.

“Once the plantings reach maturity, they will have the same look as those on Whiskey Road near the Palmetto Golf Club,” said City Manager Richard Pearce. “The landscape plan now does meet City ordinances.”

The County has also requested that any building inspections be completed by its own in-house officers and not the City’s, which was ultimately granted by City Council.

“I am still not clear why the waiver from City inspections. We are now setting a precedent that you can build whatever you want and we won’t inspect it,” Dewar said. “The County has put us in a position where it’s hard to say, ‘No.’”

Pearce reported the City’s building official “strongly prefers” that County officers finish the necessary inspections instead of the City’s officers going in to complete them midstream.

Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian said he and staff believe County rules and regulations are sufficient enough to construct a quality facility at that site.

“The County is not just anybody; it is not a commercial entity. They promised they would be good neighbors. They will put up a buffer. They’re not a regular customer. The building will be a pleasant addition to the City. Let’s not get hung up on a technicality,” Homoki said.

Even though he voted in favor of the utilities request, Cavanaugh said the situation “really upsets him.”

“There are major points here. We’re opening the door, weakening our policy, sending a message to the Planning Commission. Why didn’t you come to the City (before starting to build)? I have a very hard time going against our policies,” he said.