Is development almost 'impossible' in the City of Aiken?

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News 12 at 11 o'clock / Friday, Oct. 26, 2012

AIKEN, S.C. -- A Sam's Club, a gas station and two hotels are all developments shot down by the Aiken City Council.

Now, the City of Aiken is pushing back on Aiken County's new complex building, which is currently under construction and may soon be annexed into city limits.

"Our landscaping folks will go back, draw a plan, submit it to the city planning staff and let them review it to see if it complies with their recommendation," said Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian Monday night, after a contentious meeting between the county and city.

City Council told members of County Council that if the building wants to use city water, they'll have to comply with the City's stricter ordinances. That means they'll have to redraw their design.

Signs will have to be eight feet tall. Lights will have to meet city standards. The City of Aiken will also tell the county what kind of buffer to plant around the complex, including how many trees to plant and even what kind of trees, too.

"City Council has some pretty strict regulations that makes it hard for developers, property owners, taxpayers, business owners to comply with," said business owner John Wade.

On Monday, he had a somewhat heated exchange with Aiken Mayor Fred Cavanaugh. He told the mayor that the city's ordinances need to be relaxed if the city wants developers to even consider building in city limits.

He said the additional costs of complying often break the bank and make a project impossible.

"My property on the bypass, it would have cost me an upper of $100,000 to meet landscaping regulations," he said.

At the meeting, council member Lessie Price said she hears from many developers who'd rather build outside city limits for that very reason.

The mayor told her he hadn't, to which she replied she'd heard from several just in the past few weeks.

"People are afraid, Mr. Mayor," she said.

City Councilman Dick Dewar says it's a problem that's finally been vocalized.

"We need to have some honest dialogue with the people who are having problems or who have had problems with the City," Dewar said.

That dialogue could include people like Wade. News 12 asked him point blank if he'd open a business in city limits.

"No, and it has nothing to do with taxes. It has to do with the regulations," he said.

He says he doesn't have a problem with the City's Engineering and Utilities Department or the Planning Commission. He's just frustrated that even after a plan is decided, City Council could rip the rug out from under him and send the project back to the drawing board.

But Mayor Cavanaugh says Aiken's ordinances make Aiken what it is.

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