Many business owners on Dougherty and Whiskey roads are expressing concerns with the possibility of having another affordable housing complex built on Aiken's Southside, too close to roads they say have too many problems already.

On Monday, Aiken City Council will consider 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.

A public hearing will be held prior to City Council's vote at the 7 p.m. meeting in the Aiken Municipal Building. 

Pamela Ely, owner of Woods Farm Market on Dougherty Road, is concerned that the apartments – on top of the addition of Taco Bell – will add more congestion on the intersection of Dougherty and Whiskey.

“This road is a mess, the traffic is awful," Ely said. "There’s been wrecks, and now they’re putting a Taco Bell and (Woodford Trace apartments) up right behind Aiken Motorcycle. This is the worst road and intersection. Another drive-thru place is just going to add more problems."

Ely noted Whiskey Road's "severe" lack of sidewalks and walkways, where she has seen individuals nearly get hit walking down the road and across it.

The traffic that eases on to Dougherty Road off of Whiskey has put her customers and employees in danger on several occasions.

"All you hear all day is tires screeching and horns honking," Ely said. "Three of our farmers have been hit on the road, as well as about six of our customers during the last few years," Ely said.

Too much congestion

Businesses owners say the planned development so close to Whiskey and Dougherty may add additional footwork and automobile congestion in an area that is already not safe for pedestrians and drivers.

Marsha Hopkins, owner of Aiken Motorcycle on Whiskey Road, has followed the housing project since its announcement. Aiken Motorcycle is located in front of Palmetto Crossing, where Hopkins said there has been litter and vandalism on her property.

"There is a tremendous amount of foot traffic from the existing apartments, Palmetto Crossing," Hopkins wrote in the letter to Ryan Bland, the City of Aiken's planning director, laying out why she opposes having the additional apartment complex.

"The impact of this foot traffic has resulted in my land being used by pedestrians daily."

Hopkins added that since Palmetto Crossing's opening, her garage has been vandalized and broken into. She included photos with her letter. 

The pictures Hopkins produced with her letter showed the vandalized garage, as well as upturned Walmart shopping carts and other litter scattered on her property.

Hopkins said she is concerned that the issues she has had with Palmetto Crossing may transfer over to the Woodford Trace.

"I keep my property clean, but I don't go back there to clean theirs," Hopkins pointed out. "I think that if they're going to put in a residential area, then there needs to be measures in place, in addition to infrastructure, to where the residents aren't going to pollute the land of their neighbors. I don't think that's too much to ask."

Business owner Brian Briggs, of Dixie Lock & Safe on Owens Street, and Patrick Donovan, of Bravefriend Apparel and Design on Whiskey Road, submitted similar letters to City Council stating foot traffic as a primary reason to not build the apartment complex so close to Whiskey Road.

"Not only do we have the impact of many more cars on the road, but there is a tremendous amount of foot traffic from the existing apartments, Palmetto Crossing," Patrick Donovan said in his letter. "The impact of this foot traffic has resulted in so much more litter, attempted breaks-ins to the back and front of our buildings. There is not enough room for more automobile traffic." 

Donovan also noted that the traffic problem should be addressed first before any additional infrastructure is added along Whiskey Road.

Planning Commission denial

The plans for the Woodford Trace were originally proposed at the Oct. 12 City Council meeting, only to be turned down by the Aiken Planning Commission at its Oct. 15 meeting.

Planning Commission members pointed out what they deemed "a lack of suitable infrastructure in the area."

During that hearing, the commission chairman, Jack Hunter, described the area as "a nightmare" – an observation informed by his many trips down Dougherty Road, he explained.

On Dec. 9, City Council voted to advance the development 5-2, taking into consideration Planning Commission's recommendation of denying the project, after a back-and-forth work session and a lengthy public hearing. City Council members Ed Woltz and Kay Biermann Brohl dissented.

Affordable housing needed

The location for the new apartments would be off Owens Street, an L-shaped connector tying together Whiskey and Dougherty roads – between Walmart and Publix and along Dougherty Road.

Those in favor of the Woodford Trace development have cited the city's lack of affordable housing and the need to quickly, and smartly, address the problem. 

"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.

"These are working class people," said City Council member Lessie Price during the Dec. 9 meeting. "We should not ... prematurely determine that these are reckless people coming in and their children are going to run wild. These are people that care about their families."

Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Will Williams, speaking directly to City Council on Dec. 9, said the need for apartments in the city is certainly there. The Economic Development Partnership is a nonprofit that works to improve the business landscape in Aiken, Edgefield, McCormick and Saluda counties.

Improvement projects ongoing

The Taco Bell currently under construction at the intersection of Whiskey and Dougherty roads is scheduled to be complete by March. 

Additionally, the Whiskey-Dougherty intersection will have two right turn-only lanes and one left turn-only lane, which are meant to help alleviate the traffic in the area. The additions are part of the city's Intersection Improvement Project, which will end with the added lanes. 

The new lanes are set to be completed by March as well.

According to statistics provided by Lt. Jennifer Hayes, records manager for the Aiken Department of Public Safety, there were 24 accidents on Whiskey Road between 2017 to 2019.

An additional 24 accidents have occurred on Neilson Street, Owens Street, Spaulding Drive, Spencer Drive and Silver Bluff Road, where 18 of the 24 accidents have occurred.

None of the accidents were fatal.

The city has previously reviewed options to relieve some of the issues on Whiskey Road. In August 2018, the city discussed the concept, the Whiskey Road Corridor Congestion Relief Project, with consultant Rick Toole, the president of W.R. Toole Engineers.

The project, previously estimated at $120 million, consists of several smaller infrastructure ventures that involve stormwater and road improvements along Whiskey Road itself; a reformatted Dougherty Road corridor, including traffic circles; and more.

The project is in its preliminary stage, said City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh.

The City Council will additionally review a concept plan for a new road that will incorporate the Woodford Trace apartments driveway at its Monday night meeting.

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, if constructed, would be built simultaneously with the Woodford Trace apartments. 

Share opinion at public hearing

Residents will be allowed to share their opinion about the planned development at a public hearing at City Council on Monday evening. 

Planned amenities in the new development include a playground, picnic area, business center, community room and a laundry facility, according to agenda documents.

Thirty of the pitched apartments there would be two-bedroom units. The other 18 would feature three bedrooms. 

The concept plan depicts nearly 100 parking spots, more than what's required by city rules.

Flatiron Partners and Classic Development Company are listed as the developers for Woodford Trace. 

Examples of previous projects handled by Flatiron Partners are included in City Council meeting packet for the Monday meeting.

Woodford Trace SC is registered to a Columbia address.

Staff writer Colin Demarest and news editor Holly Kemp contributed to this article.

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