The controversial Woodford Trace affordable housing apartments moved forward Monday night, and the City of Aiken wants to be involved in the process to guide the development.
Aiken City Council voted 5-2 to give final approval of an ordinance to annex, rezone and approve the concept plan for the Woodford Trace apartments development, a 48-unit multifamily development containing two- and three-bedroom units on 4.56 acres near Owens Street.
City Council voted to approve the concept plan with the addition of a new road, currently known as the Owens Street Extension, that will incorporate a driveway for the proposed apartments.
The proposed road will come off of the Pawnee-Neilson connector, which parallels Whiskey Road, and should "alleviate, but not eliminate" additional footwork and traffic off Whiskey and Dougherty roads.
The road was added as a "condition" by the developers, Flatiron Partners, as a way to make the Whiskey-Dougherty area safer and less congested from incoming traffic.
"The city asked us to make change that came at a cost to our project, and we're willing to step up," Hollis Fitch, principal for Flatiron Partners, said. "We're putting in additional dollars to make this road work and to work it out with the city."
Fitch said at the meeting that, based off the study of a third-party traffic expert, the addition of the Woodford Trace apartments "would not add a manageable difference" to the traffic on Whiskey Road.
"The traffic problem there exists today, but the apartments will not add to a problem that already exists," Fitch said. "We're trying to do what we can with the resources we have."
Fitch also noted that, should the city have voted against the Woodford Trace apartments, the developers could have gone to the county to develop the apartments and "would not need the council's permission" but chose to add the Owens Street Extension as a way to keep the council involved.
Council members Kay Brohl and Gail Diggs voted against the affordable housing complex.
Brohl said that it would not matter if the developers were "putting in $100,000-a-month (apartments) there" and that the issue still fell back to safety.
"We've had a history, it seems like, with adding things where the infrastructure could not afford it," Brohl said. "The developers have come forward and offered us some great things, but it's still not nearly enough. If this were a year or two down the road, if we had Dougherty Road done, I would say, 'Come on;' but, right now, I don't think I can say yes to this."
Diggs noted that the road, while seen as a "fix" in the eyes of the developers, is just a Band-Aid for the area's issues.
"I don't care if the apartments are high-income, I just don't feel like the infrastructure is there to accommodate it," Diggs said.
The location for the new apartments will be located off Owens Street, an L-shaped connector tying together Whiskey and Dougherty roads – between Walmart and Publix and along Dougherty Road.
Woodford Trace is planned near Palmetto Crossing, another recently constructed affordable community.
"The community has an excellent location with easy access to employment, retail, parks, public transportation and community services," reads a project narrative provided to City Council.
The narrative also states that "residents (are anticipated) to work within one mile of the community."
The initial qualifying income for the proposed Woodford Trace apartments is $22,000-$40,740, according to documents submitted to the city.
Council members who voted in favor of the Woodford Trace apartments noted that their decision rested on having the "city's involvement on the project."
Council member Andrea Gregory said that going forward with the developer's plan would give the city a chance to "create some kind of stipulations for the city to make a difference."
"If we don't support this as a city, Mr. Fitch will move forward with the county where they don't have to add any sidewalks or (other measures). They have that option." Gregory said. "We're going to throw safety out the window."
Fitch said the connector road is just the "start" of the project and that the process should take anywhere from 12 to 16 months.