If you're scoring at home, this is probably a commanding 3-0 series lead.
The amendments to the redevelopment plan for the North Augusta tax increment financing district within the North Augusta riverfront passed the third and final reading at City Council, 6-1. As he has in previous weeks, Councilman Jimmy Adams was the lone vote against the proposal.
With the passage of the North Augusta City Council, along with the approvals from both the Aiken County School Board and Aiken County Council, the path ahead for Project Jackson, or a project of the like, just got a lot more clear. The City of North Augusta now has the financial capability to develop the 457-acre area.
Unlike the second hearing, which had no comments from the public or council, the final hearing featured two speakers from the public – Rod Berg and Steve Donohue.
Berg stated he did not understand why the project would not be put through a referendum. In his words he stated that “it is the tax money of the citizens of North Augusta” and he felt as though they should have a voice in the process.
“I have no reservations at all, because we are not required to have referendum by law,” Mayor Lark Jones said in reply to Berg's suggestion. “There was no referendum on (the North Augusta municipal center), Riverview Park, and if you say people should vote, where do you draw line on what they vote or shouldn't vote on? We have a referendum every two or four years in an election, and if the people don't like what council has done, then they change the council. I think each councilmember here, in their own mind, takes a position on this project based on what they feel the community wants and the reaction the community has to the proposal.”
Berg stated that Jones' response, which also included comments about leaders having to make “tough decisions” which sometimes anger some people, affirmed his belief in the City's government.
“You've been my mayor since I've been here,” he said to Jones. “You've made good decisions and so has council. I trust your judgment and hope you do a bang-up job. I hope it's successful.”
Donohue, the president of the River Club's homeowners association, has been the most vocal opponent to the project since its inception. Both he and Jones had a couple of back-and-forths on the blighted area, the City's master plan and other topics.
“You may want a baseball stadium so bad that you can taste it,” Donohue said. “... I'm sorry, and sometimes my words are harsh, but when I see things like what you're doing here, not getting the evidence, making declarations and findings not supported by anything but thin air, I don't see government of the people. I see government above the people. ... I see government in spite of the people and I don't see government for the people – I see government that ignores the people.”
Councilman Adams voiced some of his concerns.
“I support the proposed development, but not the stadium component,” he said. “... There are questions to consider – a stadium in the same entertainment market with no significant investment by the team owners.”
Councilman Ken McDowell said he believed it showed in the data that he had been provided.
“The majority of citizens have told me they want to pursue Project Jackson, and I have no hesitation to say I support that,” he said. “We will, however, solicit input from all North Augusta citizens to how to make this best happen. We need comments and concerns at the planning stage, up front, before we get too far along.”
Councilwoman Carolyn Baggott also voiced the fact that even though the vote passed, there is no ribbon cutting on the horizon.
“We are not going to break ground tomorrow. We probably have another year at least thoroughly investigating the next move,” she said. “There is nothing set in stone, we want to move ahead in an appropriate manner. This may not come to fruition. There may be a stadium down there, and there may not be. It's up to whether or not everything falls in place. This is a vehicle that will allow us to follow through with what has been presented.”
Jones stated that this project would allow the City to fulfill the mission of its redevelopment and see the plan through to completion.
“When we get something more concrete, we will bring it out to the public just to try and get them to buy in,” he said. “I think most of the public has bought into it, because we wouldn't have gotten to where we are without that. We just want to get some feelings – you never know, someone from the general public may make a comment that a room full of smart people haven't thought of yet.”
Scott Rodgers is the news editor at the North Augusta Star and has been with the paper since January 2013 after previously working at the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter @NAStarRodgers.
Staff Photo by T.J. Lundeen The decisive approval vote included, from left, Councilmembers Ken McDowell, Fletcher Dickert, Carolyn Baggott, Mayor Lark Jones, Pat Carpenter and David McGhee. Councilman Jimmy Adams, far right, voted against the proposal.×