The proposed rezoning of 18 parcels in Bonniview Estates presents District 7 County Councilman Andrew Siders with multiple choices. As such, it’s an instructive case study in county zoning.
This proposal was originally presented to the Aiken County Planning Commission by the owner of the 18 parcels. It would change these properties from Residential Conservation to Urban Development – moving them from the most restrictive zone to one of the least restrictive zones. The intended uses on the rezoning application range from day spas to private schools to service-oriented businesses.
These parcels aren’t contiguous. Seven of them cluster along the intersection of Whiskey Road and Shannon Lane across from Sonic. Two more front Whiskey Road close to the Daugherty Road intersection, eight are on Monterey Drive within the neighborhood, and one is located on Sharyn Lane.
At its Feb. 20 meeting, the Commission unanimously recommended that County Council disapprove the requested zoning. In the Commission’s report to Council, the disjointed nature of the parcels was noted.
Additionally, the report stated, “Several Commission members informed the applicants that while they did not think that changing the zoning was not appropriate given the commercial nature of the area, they did think the applicants should change the request to apply to just the lots fronting Whiskey Road and consider a less intense zoning classification.”
In other words, limiting the rezoning to the parcels along Whiskey Road coupled with a less “intense” designation such as Office Residential or Limited Development would be preferable.
On April 1 this proposal – with the Commission’s negative recommendation – went to Council and onto Councilman Siders’ lap.
Siders is the key player. By an unwritten convention, barring some egregious circumstance, the other eight members on Council normally defer to the resident councilman on zoning issues impacting his district. Since the average Council district is more than 125 square miles, this is a reasonable approach. After all, a councilman from North Augusta doesn’t necessarily understand the conditions in Wagener, and vice versa.
Siders also has tremendous power in his ability to amend the proposed rezoning. While any “significant” change – one adding properties to the proposal or granting looser standards – must go back to the Commission, Siders can propose amendments reducing the number of parcels or substituting tighter zones in lieu of the proposed Urban Development without referral back to the Commission.
As Siders ponders this issue, he must navigate several constraints. Politically, he must balance the desires of his constituents who favor the change versus those who don’t.
Siders must consider the present state of the neighborhood and where the internal and external trends are leading. Is the retention of Residential Conservation, particularly along Whiskey Road, the best and highest use of these properties? Or is some change warranted given the overwhelmingly commercial nature of Whiskey?
And finally, Siders must decide whether Urban Development is appropriate, taking into account all of its allowable uses, or if Urban Development is overkill.
Siders faces a menu of options. At the opposite extremes, he can either move to approve the rezoning as is or move to disapprove the application – the last choice in line with the Commission’s recommendation.
He can also move to amend the proposal. This is where it gets interesting.
For example, he can propose an amendment to rezone only the seven disjointed parcels along Whiskey Road. Or he can amend to rezone only the seven contiguous parcels along Whiskey and Shannon Lane across from the Sonic. Or he can rezone these contiguous parcels, but eliminate the one fronting Monterey Drive.
Siders can amend the zoning designation from Urban Development, which allows just about anything save salvage yards and hazardous waste dumps, to more limited zones such as Limited Development or Office Residential.
Further, Siders can creatively go beyond the original application. He can move to rezone all parcels in Bonniview along Whiskey Road to Urban Development, Limited Development or Office Residential. This assumes that lots along Whiskey Road ought to be commercial of one sort or another.
Such an amendment would be referred back to the Commission since it would be a significant change. First, it would incorporate parcels not included in the current application. Second, it would convert the additional parcels from Residential Conservation to a less restrictive designation.
At the April 1 Council meeting, this proposed rezoning was tabled. This was a wise and prudent move as it gives Siders time to consider his options.
In these circumstances, the power of a single councilman is considerable.
Gary Bunker is a former Aiken County Councilman.