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Aiken Planning Commission recommends concept plan, rezoning for old hospital property

May 16, 2019

A major redevelopment plan for the old Aiken County hospital property secured the Aiken Planning Commission’s blessing Tuesday, albeit with a slew of conditions.

The Planning Commission that night unanimously voted to recommend for approval the submitted – and reviewed – concept plan and a related rezoning, going from office to planned commercial.

Seven conditions were attached to the recommendation, some of which address landscaping, open space, signage, materials, architecture and oversight concerns.

The matter now moves to City Council. The planning panel advises City Council.

The Aiken County Council in March approved selling the sprawling old Aiken County hospital property to WTC Investments LLC for $1.1 million. The deal has not yet closed.

WTC Investments LLC has since pitched a rework of the property – 828 Richland Ave. W. – that is radically different from its current state.

Notably, the development publicly detailed Tuesday by architect K.J. Jacobs involves demolishing the existing structures. That includes the hospital and nurses home.

A four-floor, roughly 100-key boutique hotel would front Richland Avenue near the Vaucluse Road split, according to Jacobs. A conference center would connect to the back of it, forming an angled “L.” A rooftop bar was also mentioned.

A 400-space parking deck, cut into the hill, would parallel Vaucluse Road. It would look tucked in, according to Jacobs.

A 150-unit residential building would be perched both above and next to parking in the northeast corner near Morgan Street.

A sizable detention pond, ringed by a path, would sit in the other northern corner, and walking trails would snake through the middle of the property as a whole.

Overall, Jacobs on Tuesday framed the proposed development – far from set in stone – as active and energetic, something that could honor the gateway parcel’s prominence, downtown walkability, and regional heritage.

“We are extremely, extremely excited about this project,” WTC Investments LLC manager Tom Wyatt told the Planning Commission. He added, “We think this is a home run for the community, for the city.”

“I just want to echo Tom’s enthusiasm for this project,” Jacobs said separately.

The hospital property, some of which dates back to the 1930s, was once home to the county government. But it’s sat vacant for years now, a point Planning Commission Chairman Jack Hunter raised during the meeting.

“Nope, it’s sat there, sat there, sat there. Rotting. Molding. Falling apart,” Hunter said, noting he’s a “big believer” in retooling older buildings – if and when it’s possible.

As compared to previous hospital-related meetings, and there’s been several, backlash on Tuesday to the prospective developer and its plan was muted.

Public criticisms targeted the planned demolition of buildings, which people believe are of historical importance.