AIKEN - Residents of Stratford Hall were shocked Wednesday morning when they awoke to the sound of trees being cut down adjacent to their subdivision.
"You come home (that afternoon), and the property's been cleared," said Stratford Hall Homeowners Association President Steve Whitley.
But after checking with Aiken County officials, Mr. Whitley discovered no regulations were broken during the work on the land, which is zoned for commercial use. The wooded lot had served as a buffer between Whiskey Road and the subdivision, Mr. Whitley said.
Greg Szymik, development official with the Aiken County Planning and Development Department, said the timber harvest required no special permit.
"Our development ordinance specifically exempts agricultural practices, such as forestry or planting of crops," he said. The county has no permitting or review process for agricultural activity.
Mr. Whitley said the residents of Stratford Hall accept that the property will be developed for commercial purposes but that does not reduce their interest in the parcel.
"We felt we had a vested interest in what goes in around us even though we don't have direct control," he said. "We want our officials to realize we're back here, and we're concerned."
But he said the homeowners association is not going to protest or put up protest signs, even though two hand-painted, protest signs have been placed along Whiskey Road and Stratford Drive. "I don't know anything about the signs," Mr. Whitley said.
He said Stratford is in an unusual situation because the subdivision is in the city of Aiken and the land being cleared is in the unincorporated area of Aiken County. Thus, different regulations govern the residential area and the land being cleared.
"We just wanted the integrity of our neighborhood maintained while existing in harmony with a large-scale development," Mr. Whitley said.
Larry Holley, one of the owners of the land, said the timber was sold for harvesting. The parcel was harvested eight to 10 years ago, Mr. Holley said, and it was time to harvest the area again.
He said the property will look worse this winter, but when the leaves begin to grow in the spring, the area will not appear to be as barren as it does now.
"We are cognizant of the people behind us and are trying to be good neighbors with them," he said. "We put in an extra large buffer ... between us and Stratford Hall."
Mr. Holley said he expects the property will eventually be developed for commercial use.
"We're not in any big hurry to do anything with it," he said. "We love Aiken, and when we do (sell the land for development), we'll try to do the very best for everybody."
Reach Rick Green at (803) 279-6895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.