Aiken’s leadership once again has cowered to the pressure of a small but vocal group of citizens who have an irrational and obsessive opposition to parking garages. Ironically, many of these same people claim to love trees. It’s true that parking garages aren’t beautiful, but neither are enormous parking lots, which obviously eliminate more trees than garages. The problem is that you must have one or the other.
Sunday’s paper reported that the proposed redevelopment of the former Aiken Hospital – abandoned for good reasons by Aiken County government – would now have only surface parking, with 600 spots for hotel guests and apartment residents. This “victory” by garage opponents is self-defeating.
The concept plan shows a huge mosaic of smaller parking lots divided by rows of trees, which sacrifices the ability to have true green space on the site. Here in Aiken, where temperatures have now hovered over 90 degrees for five consecutive months, attempts to integrate trees and parking lots have little aesthetic value, and the trees are usually sickly. See any big box parking lot in Aiken for reference. In addition, paved lots cause substantially more storm water runoff (with contaminants) than parking garages, which have a much smaller footprint on the land.
As a consequence of this change, due to misguided and perhaps selfish citizens, hotel guests and apartment residents will have vehicles covered in ice or frost in the winter, pollen in the spring and leaves in the fall. They will contend with hot vehicles in the summer and carry luggage or groceries farther, often in Aiken’s epic rainstorms.
The prospective developer should be made to construct an adequate parking garage that is as visually pleasing as possible. It should be well lit and equipped with security cameras to enhance safety. The developer also should be made to integrate green space on site for the enjoyment of guests and residents, as well as those driving by on adjacent streets.
Whether or not the city subsidizes garage construction to help move this project forward is a separate matter. The developer can also charge a garage fee to guests and residents to recover construction costs. Either way, something has to happen, and soon, to end the dormancy of the huge, derelict complex at Aiken’s most important gateway.