Aiken City Council signs off on widespread downtown-area rezoning

May 14, 2019

More than 100 parcels east of what is typically considered downtown Aiken will now be zoned downtown business, a mixed-use designation that better accommodates housing as compared to the general business zoning that permeated the area prior.

The Aiken City Council on Monday night unanimously approved the second – and final – reading of the related rezoning ordinance. The first reading was approved April 22.

The Aiken Downtown Development Association backed the move. A glowing letter reportedly from ADDA Executive Director Haley Knight was read into the record Monday night.

The properties now rezoned are bounded by Union Street, Park Avenue, Williamsburg Street and Barnwell Avenue. The rezoning does include the farmers market, according to Aiken Planning Director Ryan Bland. It does not include the Salvation Army properties at 600 and 604 Park Ave. Salvation Army representatives had requested an exemption several times during several public hearings.

City Council member Ed Girardeau on Monday night announced he was “now in agreement” with the Salvation Army’s request.

City officials have often said the downtown-business designation will correct zoning issues within those 10 blocks and will set the area on a positive path forward.

“By changing the rezoning to downtown business, it more reflects the character of what’s there now,” Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said Monday. Last week, Mayor Rick Osbon said the rezoning will “foster growth” that reflects Laurens Street and its popular offshoots.

Downtown business does not “eradicate housing,” to use City Council member Lessie Price’s words.

“It does the opposite,” Bland said, speaking to the council.

The grander downtown-area rezoning effort is at least a year in the making: “At a May 2018 City Council work session, Council requested that the Planning Department review zoning in and around downtown Aiken for agreement with the Comprehensive Plan,” reads a briefing document in City Council’s meeting packet.

The Planning Commission, which advises City Council, had recommended rezoning the properties between Union Street, Park Avenue, Williamsburg Street and Barnwell Avenue. The commission’s vote was 5-2.