Last Tuesday evening, the Aiken County Council unanimously approved the rezoning of several properties in Bonniview Estates along Whiskey Road.
Many of these properties were involved in a rezoning request that was defeated last April.
What changed over the intervening four months? Why did Council favor this change over the original proposal?
The measure that was defeated in April would have rezoned 18 parcels from Residential Conservation to Urban Development.
Some of these parcels fronted Whiskey Road, but several others were in the interior of the neighborhood along Monterey Drive.
Going from Residential Conservation to Urban Development would have been a significant change. Residential Conservation is the most restrictive zone while Urban Development is one of the least restrictive. The intended uses on the rezoning application included day spas, private schools and service oriented businesses.
On Feb. 20, the Planning Commission recommended that Council disapprove the application. Their report stated: “Several Commission members informed the applicants that while they did not think that changing the zoning was not appropriate given the commercial nature of the area, they did think the applicants should change the request to apply to just the lots fronting Whiskey Road and consider a less intense zoning classification.”
Therefore, the report outlined a path forward for amending the request. Limiting the rezoning to the parcels along Whiskey Road coupled with a less “intense” designation such as Office Residential or Limited Development could have formed the basis for a workable alternative.
But at its meeting on April 15, Council simply voted the proposal down in deference to the wishes of Andrew Siders, the resident Councilman for District 7.
So it was back to the drawing board for the applicants. Their second attempt succeeded where the first one failed, and the two attempts constitute a case study in what does – and what does not – succeed in rezoning requests.
The revised application was submitted on April 18, three days after the original proposal was shot down. The second attempt differed from the first in three ways.
First, it was a more limited proposal. Instead of attempting to rezone 18 parcels, it sought to rezone only 8 parcels. Hence, it represented an incremental approach.
Second, instead of rezoning the parcels from Residential Conservation to Urban Development, it proposed the more moderate Limited Development zone. This was crucial.
In rezoning, all of the uses in a proposed zone must be considered, and not just the intended uses on the application. Again, it represented a more incremental approach.
Third, seven of the eight parcels were along Whiskey Road, and the eighth was contiguous and faced the Sonic across Shannon Lane. None of rezoned parcels were in the interior of the neighborhood.
Even this scaled back approach had its critics. “Three neighboring property owners spoke against the rezoning indicating that they would like to keep the area residential,” states the minutes from the May 15 Planning Commission meeting,
Nevertheless, by a majority vote the Commission recommended approval to Council. The revised proposal fixed the most obvious problems in the original. The Commission recognized that single-family residential uses are no longer appropriate along that stretch of Whiskey Road.
Councilman Siders is pleased with the new approach.
“Moving from Residential Conservation to Limited Development represents the highest and best use for these properties,” says Siders. “The commercial uses are only along Whiskey Road and aren’t set back within the neighborhood.”
Siders also doesn’t think that any resulting business traffic will impact the already busy thoroughfare.
Siders is probably right. The limited additional uses allowed within Limited Development zones and the County’s parking and setback regulations will limit development. Anything other than small professional offices – similar to those found along rezoned portions of Silver Bluff Road – is hard to imagine on these small parcels.
Clearly, both the Commission and Council prefer small, prudential changes over wholesale modifications. Cautious alterations with predictable results normally receive favorable hearings.
Other applicants are now submitting requests. It’s no coincidence that as the 8 parcels were rezoned on third reading last Tuesday, another similar rezoning request passed on first reading without comment.
This new proposal rezones another parcel along Whiskey Road in Bonniview Estates from Residential Conservation to Limited Development. The Planning Commission recommendation noted that “it was in keeping with the other proposed rezoning in the area.”
With the precedent set, more proposals will come forward – and pass – until every parcel within Bonniview Estates fronting Whiskey Road is converted one by one to Limited Development.
Gary Bunker is a former Aiken County Councilman.