Some residents are pulling together in efforts to reach a compromise regarding a major rezoning in their community.
The highly debated item to rezone, approximately 3,200 acres in the Montmorenci area, has been on and off the Aiken County Council table for a few months. Now, residents are forming an ad hoc committee in hopes to come to some kind of agreement.
The story behind the rezoning proposal
Currently, the zoning is rural development, which allows a wide variety of uses. A group of residents living in the area want something more restrictive to preserve the character of their land after a cellphone tower was approved nearby. The only prohibitions in the rural development zone include junk yards, automotive wrecking yards, adult businesses and nuclear waste disposal.
Initially, the residential-horse business district was the suggested zoning but some residents found that to be too restrictive.
So, agricultural preservation was proposed, as it would be more restrictive than the current zoning but more flexible than the residential-horse business district.
Agricultural preservation allows for limited manufacturing business with 12 or fewer people. Uses such as retail, warehousing and service would not be permitted under that zoning, according to the County Planning and Development office.
Under the proposed residential-horse business district rezoning, there's a 5-acre lot minimum, but under agricultural preservation, it's only a 2-acre lot minimum, which offers residents a little more freedom in how they divide up their property.
What prompted the proposal
The story behind this rezoning request has many sides as each landowner has a different opinion, said resident Kathie Roberts.
Roberts said that once a cellphone tower was approved and a rumor circulated of farmland in the vicinity was being eyed for development, she and her neighbors began looking at the zoning ordinance.
Roberts started reaching out to neighbors and found about 70 people in favor of the much more restrictive residential-horse business district zoning and several were lukewarm about the idea. But, after some protest, agricultural preservation was suggested but that didn't sit well with everyone as it was more restrictive than the current zoning but allowed such uses as strip mining.
The meetings have been contentious, and Roberts said there was never any intention of infringing on anyone's property rights.
“All I wanted to do was help the community,” Roberts said. “In the end, whatever we decide now could affect generations to come.”
Life on the homestead
Charles and Earlene Gardner have lived in the area of the proposed rezoning for about 40 years. They have a fairly large piece of property, about 60 to 70 acres, that they hope to pass down to their grandchildren but want them to have the freedom to use it as they please.
“Those who own land should be able to do what they want with it,” Charles said. “We think ownership counts for something here.”
The Gardners have a sustainable organic garden, they have chickens for eggs, bees for honey and recently spent more than $15,000 for fencing to raise sheep in the future.
Charles Gardner said he's optimistic that there will be some sort of compromise and is glad more people are getting involved. He said that when the first meeting rolled around regarding the rezoning, not everyone who would be impacted was properly notified.
Ad hoc committee
In 2007, an ad hoc committee formed in response to a recommendation for a connector road for Whiskey Road to Silver Bluff to be in the Chime Bell Church and Anderson Pond roads area.
In 2008, an amendment was made under the sponsorship of Councilman Scott Singer to the County's Land Management Regulations ordinance to add the agricultural preservation district.
Roberts is in the process of gathering more information and hopes to have a meeting with neighbors soon to discuss the issue in more detail.
Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard.