Officials in Aiken hear benefits of open space

Ron Cockerille/Staff
Dacre Stoker, the executive director of the Aiken County Open Land Trust, stands at the gate to Winthrop Polo Field in the city of Aiken, which he was instrumental in saving from development.

AIKEN - The city has set aside funding and put a task force in place to preserve open space.


Now officials need to educate the community and themselves about the best way to meet the challenge. "You don't want to think about how much it's going to cost at the beginning," said Carol Mayes, a Charlotte, N.C., land conservation consultant, speaking to a group of about 25 local government officials Tuesday. "You want to think about, 'Is this place so important that we can't lose it?'"

Aiken City Manager Roger LeDuc said partnerships between Aiken County and the cities of Aiken and North Augusta will be the key to preserving open space. The cities and the county have set aside funds from the 1-cent local option sales tax to preserve open space.

"It's happening across the country," said Sara Wilson, a partner in the Charlotte conservation firm Mayes Wilson & Associates LLC. "Open space is an amenity for communities."

Some of the benefits of open space preservation are more tourism, business development, improved health, water quality protection and increased real estate values, she said.

"People are willing to pay a premium for land next to open space," Ms. Wilson said.

In addition, she said, studies show working land and open space require fewer public services, enabling tax revenues from protected properties to subsidize other residential development.

Ms. Wilson said communities can use a variety of strategies to protect open space. These include comprehensive planning, ordinances, conservation subdivisions, conservation easements and private land acquisition through land trusts such as the Aiken County Open Land Trust.

Robin Underwood, also with the land conservation firm, advised against placing too many restrictions on properties.

"You want to leave flexibility there to make it economically viable," she said.

Reach Betsy Gilliland at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or


The Aiken City Council gave its open space task force the go-ahead in November to inventory and map potential preservation sites in or near the city's comprehensive plan area.

The task force will use nine criteria to identify potential properties for preservation:

- Water/wetlands resources

- Buffers

- Natural habitats

- Location

- Rare or protected species

- Passive recreation

- Historical, cultural or educational features

- Costs

- Scenic resources