††A monastery in Wagener has been granted a variance to build a residence hall/chapel taller than code permits despite objections from several surrounding neighbors.


Dale Mast, on behalf of Saints Mary & Martha Orthodox Monastery, told the Aiken County Board of Appeals that the building’s roof is designed to reach a height of 49 feet, not including the cupola and cross. The area, which is zoned rural development, permits a height of only 35 feet.


Several people who live near the monastery said they don’t see a need for the building to be that tall.


“I don’t want to look out my back door and see steeples and all that,” said one man who spoke to Mast and two of the monastery’s nuns during the public hearing portion of the meeting.


The decision to grant the variance was unanimous on the basis that other height variances, such as for Bridgestone-Firestone’s new off-road radial tire plant, have been approved in the past.


A variance from a requirement to pave the building’s parking lot was also granted.


Mast said the monastery provides a place of rest for its constituents and a part of that is maintaining the natural habitat. Land had been cleared to provide parking, but no other work has been done. Paving the parking lot would distract from the natural habitat and create water run off problems, he added.


Vehicle parking traffic is minimal, Mast said. Once-monthly meetings are held, which generate 15 to 20 people.


“It’s a private facility and a rare occurrence for people coming to park,” said Robert Keenan, a member of the Board of Appeals.


Board member James Baggot voted in opposition to granting the paving variance. Board members Keenan, Kevin Turner, Edward Kopp, Thomas Tyler, and Chairman William Gingrey voted in favor. Absent were Ronnie Wood, Ben Lott, and Jerry Waters.


Saints Mary & Martha Monastery was also granted a variance from having to install landscaped islands in the parking lot. The vote to approve it was unanimous.


The area is heavily wooded naturally, Mast said.


In other business Tuesday, the Aiken County Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend that Council approve the rezoning of 30 acres on Toolebeck Road to rural horse business district from residential development. The property is currently a hay farm, but its owners want to open an equine veterinary practice.


“Most of the community around us is horse farms,” said applicant Celeste Barker.