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Aiken Planning Commission approves subdivision plans for horse-district estate

February 14, 2018

The owners of Two Trees, an approximately 9-acre historic estate in the heart of Aiken’s horse district, have received approval to subdivide their property.

On Tuesday night, the Aiken Planning Commission granted William and Shalomette Moore a 3-foot setback variance that, in grander schemes, enables the splitting of the iconic property. The setback variance – a deviation from agreed-upon land-use regulations – was unanimously approved.

Conditions attached to the approval require no future property access be created along Grace Avenue; perpetual easement access to all properties sharing a driveway; and a covenant for collective driveway care.

The Planning Commission is the final, ruling body for these matters. Any appeals must be made in state civil court.

The Moores requested a 3-foot variance after preliminarily dividing their property into three, 3-acre parcels. The variance was needed, the Moores said, to account for a building being 7 feet away from a potential property line. City code requires a minimum 10 feet.

The Moores said the variance request, and thus the ability to subdivide their property, is preemptive: There are no immediate offers to purchase any or all of the property, they do not plan to sell the property any time soon and the actual divisions are not pressing – it’s something to be pursued.

“What we’re talking about tonight … we’re looking at a setback variance that would exist if and when the property is subdivided,” William Tucker, the attorney representing the Moores, said.

The parcels

The proposed land divisions form a squashed, jagged “Y’ across the property, which is bounded to the west by Whiskey Road, to the north by Grace Avenue and to the east by Magnolia Street.

Parcel 1, as it is described in City documents, contains the “main house” and consumes the southeastern corner of the property. Parcel 1 can be accessed from Magnolia Street. The lot contains an office building and a tennis court.

Parcel 2, City documents state, is the front of the property along Grace Avenue. The lot runs the east-west length of the entire estate and contains a residential area, a garage with apartments and parts of existing paddocks.

Parcel 3, the documents continue, is the western portion of the property. It has a 14-stall stable, four-stall polo barn, paddocks and several smaller buildings. There are no residences on Parcel 3.

Parcel 2 and 3 would share an entrance along Grace Avenue. The parcel boundaries “follow existing internal walls and fences,” City documents state.

“The proposal lines make the most sense,” Tucker said.

William Moore said he and his wife would do the very best they could to preserve the estate – subdividing the property will make this easier, Tucker said – and make the City proud of it.

“Keep us honest,” William Moore said in a post-meeting interview.

Previous attempt

In December 2017, the Moores made a request to subdivide their property, built in 1929 by W.R. Grace II and architect James W. O’Connor, into four parcels that required a total three variances. The Moores, in December, had requested permission to create two 1-acre parcels as well as two other larger parcels. The minimum lot size in the Residential Single-Family/Stable zone, under which the property falls, is 3 acres.

The December plan was rejected by the Planning Commission.

“The big issue in December was the two parcels that were extremely nonconforming,” Tucker said Feb. 13.

Planning Commission Interim Chairman Jack Hunter agreed: “That was a much more significant change.” Hunter said the Moores “were asking for a little bit more” last year compared to what was asked this month.

“We’re only talking about 7 feet,” Planning Commission member Susan DeBruhl said of the variance.

The variance approved Tuesday night was included in the December plans.

“It didn’t really even surface as an issue,” Tucker said.

That’s because opposition to the previously requested 1-acre slivers was so intense. Opposing parties claimed 1-acre allotments would create a slippery slope, one that a local real estate agent said would change the horse district forever.

Public outcry

Opposition to the Moores’ plans Tuesday night came hard and heavy – although considerably less lengthy compared to last year’s public hearing.

One person said the subdivision plans looked “like a piece of Swiss cheese.” A Two Trees neighbor said the plan would destroy the neighborhood and “basic integrity of what the horse district is.” Others were concerned with the health of horses that could potentially live on Two Trees subdivisions.

Dione Carroll, an attorney retained by a group of concerned neighbors, said she applauds the overall plan’s maturation but said it is still incomplete.

Carroll argued the estate was less than 9 acres. She said City records show it at 8.96 or 8.97 acres, which would make the splicing that much more legally difficult.

“I’m not trying to be a nitpicker,” Carroll said. “I’m not trying to make it hard for these folks.”

Carroll said there was an air of cooperation and parliamentary manners surrounding the subdivision request, but she also warned the Planning Commission that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” She said decisions on the matter should not be rushed and set-in-stone assurances should be sought.

A professional survey of the estate was recently redone by Aiken civil engineering firm Hass & Hilderbrand. That survey, included in the Planning Commission’s packet, shows the property to be ever-so-slightly larger than 9 acres. Tucker said the land deed also lists more than 9 acres.

“I have the original deed,” Tucker said.

City attorney Gary Smith said there is no legal standing to question the Hass & Hilderbrand assessment.

“The only way that could be overcome is if there was litigation involved between the Moores and whoever else wanted to challenge the validity of that plat,” Smith said.

A plat is a map, drawn to scale, that depicts the breaking up of land.