AIKEN -- When Don Sprawls decided to relocate his car business five years ago, everyone told him to move to the thriving south side.
He's glad he didn't listen.
"I figured that if I hung around long enough, things would come this way," said Mr. Sprawls, who has owned Sprawls Service & Sound on the north side of Aiken for 23 years. "This area is finally starting to turn around."
After more than three decades of sluggish commercial and residential growth, local experts say the city's north side finally is on the brink of a development spurt.
A handful of projects are brewing that might bring at least 500 more homes to the area in the next five years, said developer Ronny Bolton. There also are plans for a shopping center, anchored by Bi-Lo, across from Crosland Park on York Street.
"It's great that we're finally getting good growth and planned growth on the north side," Mr. Bolton said. "But we need retail to support the residential."
The city Planning Commission on Tuesday approved a request by Northside Properties that allows 15 acres next to Glendale Terrace Apartments, also on York Street, to be rezoned general business. Aiken City Council will vote on the request May 22.
Northside Properties will turn the 15 acres into a 60,000-square-foot shopping center. It is still talking to tenants and expects to have more details in June, said contractor Thad Barber.
"The north side has not lost its population, but has been underserved from a commercial standpoint for years," he said. "The lack of desire can be attributed to the attention paid to the south side of town."
York Street, which becomes U.S. Highway 1, is scattered with small businesses and old subdivisions. There are no major department stores or restaurants at that end of town, and only one Winn-Dixie grocery store.
While development on the north side remained stagnant, the south side had a growth spurt over the last 20 years that left Whiskey Road cluttered with businesses, restaurants and homes.
Whiskey Road's popularity began when subdivisions started to locate there.
"Retailers like to see rooftops," he said. "They want residential growth, and residents are looking for services."
On the north side, more than 50 single-family homes are planned for 14 acres next to the proposed shopping center. Developer Jerry Waters is working with Reggie Barner of the Aiken Housing Authority to develop affordable housing, from $80,000 to $100,000.
They talked to an enthusiastic city council about their plans at Monday's meeting.
"I think this is a wonderful idea," said Councilwoman Lessie Price. "It's certainly the shot in the arm the north side needs."
Residents of Crosland Park, a half-century-old neighborhood working hard to revitalize itself, agree that more homes and businesses will be a welcome sight.
"I'd love to have a bank and a post office, because I have to go across town to get those things now," said resident Mae O'Rourke. "Anything we can get out here that enables us to have more convenience, would be much appreciated."
Mr. Barber said he always knew the time would come to develop the north side of town.
"At some point, somebody has to take the plunge, either residential or commercial (developers)," he said. "But it looks like it's all going to happen at the same time."
Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.
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