Hahn Village Homes, Development Comm

Hahn Village redevelopment could be viewed as an example of a potential project the development commission could work on.

The City of Aiken is considering the creation of a new development commission that could assist the city with redevelopment projects, studies and economic development within the city limits.

The commission, titled the Aiken Municipal Development Commission, would work closely with the city and with the Aiken Corporation to accelerate these projects.

"Where we envision this going is, it will enhance the flexibility that the city does not currently have, because – being a governmental body – it has to abide by certain rules and procedures," City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said.

"…It’s not viewed as a way to circumvent transparency, either," Bedenbaugh continued. "It can operate more efficiently than government can. However, it will still have the normal transparent checks in place, because a lot of the work they will be doing – and certainly a lot of the development projects – will be subject to the ordinances, rules and regulations of the City of Aiken."

The aim of creating a flexible commission like AMDC is that it would have a streamlined process to attract investors or businesses to Aiken and could fast-track certain projects to City Council for consideration. 

"It could be good for identifying property within the city that potentially could be developed," Bedenbaugh said. "They (AMDC) could react fast to acquire the property and hold it for future development and work with the city and Aiken Corp. in development."

The city may still work with investors by providing potential incentives for investment further down the line. Bedenbaugh said the commission could focus on attracting investors to the area and accelerate some aspects of the early stages of redevelopment and other projects. 

According to Aiken City Council agenda documents, the commission would be required to "develop a master redevelopment plan" that lays out "specific goals for achieving desired improvements."

The commission would be given the power to buy and sell land, accept gifts of money and property, give gifts of money and property to redevelopment nonprofits, enter development agreements with public or private entities and borrow or lend money. It would also be able to issue development bonds "secured solely by the value of individual development projects," according to the agenda documents.

The commission was proposed by City Council member Ed Woltz in May.

"The advantage is, we need a body to help when a large or small business is looking at Aiken," Woltz said in a phone interview with the Aiken Standard on Tuesday. "That business would go through the commission and be set up. This would be a one-stop shop.”

Woltz said the old Aiken Hospital and Hahn Village redevelopment could be viewed as examples of two potential projects the commission could work on.

The proposed commission would have nine voting members. Three of its members would be Mayor Rick Osbon and two City Council members, and the remaining six would be appointed by City Council.

It would have meetings advertised in advance based on state code requirements. Meetings would be recorded, and decisions would be made public.

"Any decisions they have are subject to rules and ordinances of the city," Bedenbaugh said.

Funding for this commission would come from a variety of sources, such as the City of Aiken, individual investment, business investment and grants. Aiken Corp. could potentially provide some funding as well.

"Once everything has been put in order as far as the development commission is concerned, they would have a public hearing and a meeting, and then they would make their recommendation, and it would go through the process of – if necessary – to the Planning Commission and the City Council," Bedenbaugh said.

This means there is a potential for four public hearings on certain projects the commission is involved with, if the projects go on to City Council. 

The first reading of an ordinance to create the commission was approved at Monday's City Council meeting 5-1, with Dick Dewar dissenting.

"If you look at our agenda and you looked at that 10-page enabling legislation, it was talking about powers that I think we don't want to give any board or commission," Dewar said.

Among the powers that gave him concern were the ability of the commission to sue and buy land. The ability for the commission to sue or be sued is included in South Carolina state legislation that allows for the formation of a redevelopment commission.

Dewar also said the commission appeared to him as a "duplicate" of Aiken Corp., a nonprofit development corporation established to formulate and implement economic development projects within the City of Aiken. He raised concerns about where the money for a CEO or executive director of the commission would come from.

City Council member Andrea Gregory has also asked for further discussion on the subject of the commission. In a brief phone interview with the Aiken Standard on Wednesday, she said she was supportive of the idea of the commission, but was not 100% supportive of the initial draft.

The commission is still in the very early stages of its development. Bedenbaugh said it was "embryonic," but that further discussion and workshops will be held to flesh out the commission's role in city redevelopment and other projects. 

"Any bylaws will follow state code," Bedenbaugh said. This includes code that requires holding a public hearing prior to a commission's final adoption of a redevelopment plan. Notice of such hearing must be given 15 days prior.

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.