A change in the zoning ordinance’s definition of dwelling unit is heading to Aiken City Council for review.

The Aiken City Planning Commission voted to recommend an amendment that includes a more specific definition of a kitchen at its regular meeting on Tuesday. A kitchen must be included to be considered dwelling unit.

The vote was 4 to 1 to 1 – commissioners Kent Cubbage abstained, Terry Provost voted against the motion, and Susan DeBruhl was not in attendance.

Draft amendments to the City’s ordinance read that the “definition of ‘kitchen’ be clarified as follows: and including a stove with either burners or cook-top and oven” with the exclusion of cooking devices such as microwave oven or hot plates. A kitchen must also include a sink and “refrigerator with a separate freezer compartment.”

Currently, the City ordinance states that a dwelling unit is “a single housekeeping unit, whether in a single family or multi family structure, including at minimum, a kitchen, bathroom and sleeping area.”

The catalyst for this change was a proposal made in 2012 from Lenity Group for a 118-suite retirement facility to be constructed on 5 acres on Silver Bluff Road in the planned residential zone.

Under that zoning, 12 dwelling units per acre is the theoretical maximum, meaning that only 60 units would have been permitted. But there’s no set limit to suites that aren’t considered dwelling units, though Aiken City Council has a say in how many are permitted.

Lenity Group stated that its suites didn’t include individual kitchens, but its plan did show an area for a refrigerator, sink, a few cabinets and a space for a microwave.

The plan was initially recommended for approval by the Commission, but its vote was overturned by the Board of Zoning Appeals. Lenity pulled its plans to build in Aiken.

Planning Director Ed Evans said there seems to be a misunderstanding that the amendment would allow uses in zones that are not currently permitted. He said that, for example, this change would not allow something like an assisted living facility to locate in a single family residential zone.

Resident Preston Rahe, who filed the appeal, was at the meeting and said at least 10 people spoke against the ordinance change, and there were two submitted letters opposing the amendment. Rahe said there was also a last-minute email that supported the ordinance change.

Rahe said he was quite disappointed in the recommendation and that the Commission failed to answer questions of how the change favored high-density development.

Some residents are concerned that the proposed definition is too specific, and with the simple exclusion of one of the items that make up a kitchen, a developer with a high-density project would easily receive approval in such zonings like planned residential.

Rahe, personally, would rather see the ordinance stay the same and supplemented by the Board of Zoning Appeals decision.

The date of when this item will be appear on the City Council agenda is not known at this time.