Aiken city leaders meet for annual retreat, discuss big issues

Aiken leaders are wondering why the city can't attract and keep young people. (WRDW-TV)
Aiken leaders are wondering why the city can't attract and keep young people. (WRDW-TV)
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Friday, Jan. 25, 2012

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- For this special meeting, Mayor Fred Cavanaugh and members of the Aiken City Council are outside council chambers. They hear presentations from department heads and informally shoot ideas back and forth at the 27th Annual Horizons Retreat at the Rye Patch.

There were a number of topics on day one. One of which was the situation at Crosland Park, a neighborhood established decades ago with the establishment of Savannah River Site. In recent years, the neighborhood has been plagued with an increase in crime.

"Crosland Park was a good neighborhood when I moved in here," said Neil Ladd, who has lived in Aiken for about 30 years.

He's quick to admit that the Aiken Department of Public Safety is doing a good job. However, he just wants the City of Aiken to do a better job with the 35 homes it owns in Crosland Park. The city bought them a few years ago, hoping to revitalize the area.

"If they do buy the houses and get them sold, maybe it'd change things around, and we'd get a different grade of people that live here," Ladd said.

Right now, one of the modest homes runs around $80,000. After the city purchased the homes, contractors put around $50,000 into renovations, council members say. To break even, the homes carry price tags in the 80s and 90s

Councilwoman Lessie Price says that's too much.

"We have to get the cost of the housing down," she said.

One of her goals is for the city to flip these homes cheaper. Another goal for 2013 for Price is finding or creating more stuff for young people to do in Aiken.

"We have a great blend of things for retirees and seniors, but not enough for our young professionals and young families," she said. Many of the other council members were in support of that too.

Another big topic was Aiken's roadways.

The proposed expansion of Hitchcock Parkway dominated most discussion. Hitchcock Parkway runs from Richland Avenue to about Whiskey Road in Aiken. It's the narrow part of the bypass. In November, the South Carolina Department of Transportation revealed plans to increase Hitchcock Parkway to five lanes along one stretch. Many people weren't happy. SCDOT conducted a study to find out just how many were upset.

On Friday, City Manager Richard Pearce revealed that 75 percent of people who responded were opposed to the expansion. He also revealed that the city plans to find an alternative approach to what the SCDOT proposed. Pearce says he's working with residents to find the right answer.

"We need to absolutely stay within the existing right-of-way. The plan that the DOT brought to us initially is totally unacceptable," said Councilman Dick Dewar.

Dewar, who lives off Hitchcock Parkway, is for some expansion. He just doesn't want to take land from people's backyards like the SCDOT calls for.

"Some buildings would actually have to be destroyed if that were to go through," he said.

City leaders also talked about expanding University Parkway, decreasing Whiskey Road traffic through a myriad of proposals, replacing the city's aging infrastructure and making the airport better and more competitive, too.

Council hasn't raised the millage rate in 25 years. Both Price and Dewar tell News 12 that they'll probably continue that tradition.

The Horizons Retreat continues Saturday morning. City leaders will establish their official goals then.

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