Originally created 01/17/97

Group's motel plan approved



EDGEFIELD - A group of Aiken men has won a showdown with one of Edgefield's most prominent businessmen over who will build the town's first motel.

Bettis Rainsford proposed building a two-story motel on a large lot so long as the Edgefield Town Council blocked rival plans for a one-story motel tucked into a narrow lot. Mr. Rainsford objects to his rival's motel because of the narrow lot facing a mobile home park.

The vote was the first of two required, and Mr. Rainsford said he still would consider building his project if the proposal by the group called HARS does not get final approval.

HARS is a consortium that includes Ramesh Shah, part-owner and operator of Aiken's two Holiday Inn Express motels, and Arnold Green, a hotel renovator and part-owner with Mr. Shah of a Holiday Inn Express in Hardeeville, S.C.

Mr. Green said Thursday that the group will build a motel the town will be proud of, despite Mr. Rainsford's protestations.

"It's not going to be the Windham or the Marriott, but it's not going to be Joe's motel, either," Mr. Green said.

The HARS proposal to put a 37-room motel on a 150-foot-wide lot on U.S. Highway 25 south of town could not get approval from Edgefield County Planning Commission because the building would have to violate the 50-foot setback from side property lines.

A variance for the property was blocked because Mr. Rainsford owns an adjoining wooded lot and would not give permission for it. So HARS asked for annexation into the town of Edgefield, which has a 5-foot side setback requirement now, though that might soon go up to 20 feet.

Mr. Rainsford, convinced that the HARS motel would be "substandard," said he would finance the construction of a 40-room motel next to McDonald's, across the road and about one-eighth mile from the HARS site.

He promised the town council his would be worth more than the HARS motel and would allow it to be annexed - and thus the town to tax it - so long as the HARS property wasn't.

"I didn't want to build a motel; it's not something I wanted to do," said Mr. Rainsford, chief financial officer of Delta Woodside and owner of plenty of commercial and residential property in Edgefield. "But we're in a real position and danger to get a motel we're going to be disappointed in for decades to come."

Though much of the business for any new motel is expected to come from the visitors to the federal prison opening later this year, Mr. Rainsford said it should also be able to accommodate tourists and businesspeople.

Mr. Rainsford passed out letters from Martin Color-Fi, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the South Carolina Heritage Corridor - groups that often bring visitors to town - urging the council to reject any inappropriate proposal.

Mr. Green said Thursday that his property will be surrounded by a 6-foot wall to comply with proposed town zoning regulations.

The council plans to consider final approval of the HARS annexation Feb. 3.