Comprehensive Plan strives not to be a shot in the dark

January 24, 2017 GMT

During Monday’s work session, Aiken City Council heard a presentation on the City’s updated Comprehensive Plan, a plan Council members hope, will be something more than a shot in the dark.

According to Planning Director Ryan Bland, a Comprehensive Plan is a long-range guide that provides direction for Council, its boards and commissions, and City staff, regarding projects, programs and policies that impact the development of the community.

“It’s not a blueprint, it’s more of a guide,” said Bland. “It’s a living document and always changing. It is the foundation of the City’s land use program.”

A broad range plan

Bland said the Comprehensive Plan is a long range, and broad range plan.

“This document is supposed to set the parameters, and City policies fall within that,” he said.

The Comprehensive Planning Enabling Act of 1994 requires all South Carolina cities to maintain a Comprehensive plan and abide by it in zoning, planning and other actions. State law requires that the City update its Comprehensive Plan every 10 years.

Comprehensive Plan too broad

Council members expressed concern that the Comprehensive Plan was too broad in its scope and did not accurately represent Aiken’s true demographics.

“We need reliable data for this community,” said Council member Lessie Price. “I’m not sure demographics in this document are fully inclusive. My needs are different than what other council members might have. The difference is like night and day.”

Price said the Comprehensive Plan should be more representative of different income levels.

“Somehow we need to include the income data for lower income people and depressed communities,” she said. “There are communities in Aiken that are struggling, with people working two and three jobs just to make ends meet each week.”

Last March, consultants Benchmark Planning prepared a Comprehensive Plan draft for the Planning Commission to review through a series of six public information meetings convened last summer.

In November, the Planning Commission approved the Comprehensive Plan and forwarded the document to City Council for review and approval.

Two votes by City Council and a public hearing are required for the plan’s approval.

No rush to approve plan

City Manager John Klimm advised City Council they were under no rush to push a Comprehensive Plan through until they were comfortable and ready to do so.

“At the end of the day, the Comprehensive Plan is your document. You should not have to feel angst when recommending changes to it,” Klimm said. “You can take as much time as you need. Council members and the mayor have to get to a point where they are comfortable with this. You are the one casting the vote and it will be your signature on the document.”

Once City Council has reviewed the Comprehensive Plan, two votes and a public hearing are required for approval.

A strategic, not operational plan

Planning Commission Chairperson Liz Stewart warned Council not to bog the Comprehensive Plan down with minutiae.

“This is more a strategic plan and not an operational plan, Stewart said. “You can’t lock yourself into something so specific that you have no room for making changes over the next 10 years.”

Stewart reminded Council the Comprehensive Plan is not a mandate.

“Just because it is in the plan, does not mean it’s an obligation to do it,” she said. “We are not going to approve something that is not in the scope of the plan.”

There is no set timetable as to when the votes and public hearing will happen.

Old Business

In other Council business, Council approved:

• The second and final vote approving a concept plan for 2286 Whiskey Road earmarked for a new Discount Tire store.

• The second and final vote amending the fiscal year 2016-17 budget to approve funding for the Chesterfield Street storm drainage project.

• The second and final vote to annex and rezone 11.87 acres known as DuPont Meadows, from residential single-family and general business to planned residential and approval of the concept plan.

• The second and final vote approving the lease of property through the Department of Energy at the Aiken County Municipal Airport.

New Business

In new business, Council approved:

• The first of two votes to rezone 4.43 acres located at 573 Town Creek Road from residential single-family (RS-15) to planned institutional (PI) and to approve the concept plan.

• The first of two votes to rezone 6.14 acres on York Street at Bushwillow Drive from general business (GB) to planned residential and approve the poncept plan.

Mayor Rick Osbon read a pair of proclamations before the start of the regular City Council meeting to honor Aiken Department of Public Safety “Officer” Bob Besley for 30 years of distinguished service with the City and awarded his 30-year pin, and to observe February as Heart Awareness Month.