Originally created 01/13/02

Attitudes change as city grows



AIKEN - As a child, Jerry Waters looked up to his dad, Dewey. So, like his father before him, Mr. Waters decided he'd build houses when he grew up.

Today, at the age of 54, Mr. Waters has built more than 400 houses in the Aiken area.

"When I was younger developers were looked at as givers to the community," Mr. Waters said. "If it weren't for developers risking their life savings, there would be no new stores, no new homes."

But times have changed in Aiken.

The rapid pace of development and the increase in traffic has some saying its time for the city to slow down.

Shawn O'Conner doesn't oppose development, but he doesn't like what's happening in his neighborhood on the growing southside of town.

Mr. O'Conner moved to the Gem Lakes subdivision about 20 years ago. The neighborhood off Silver Bluff Road intersects with Aiken's busiest artery, Whiskey Road.

Mr. O'Conner says the traffic has worsened and the pace has quickened.

Traffic signs along Silver Bluff read 35 mph in some places.

"Even though they say (that), people run through here at 55, 60 miles per hour," Mr. O'Conner said.

That reverses during the peak travel times, morning and evening rush hour, when traffic slows and cars back up on the road.

Those problems can be fixed, Mr. Waters said.

"There's no traffic problem that can't be easily averted by using alternate routes," he said. "You have to sacrifice just a little time for convenience."

City officials have studied Aiken's southside traffic, and have prepared ways to deal with congestion, such as creating passageways through shopping centers that are not connected.

Plans also call for the construction of connector roads between Whiskey and Silver Bluff roads and Silver Bluff and Powderhouse roads.

"I believe with the improvements we're going to be making, things will get better," City Manager Roger LeDuc said.

What people don't realize, Mr. Waters said, is that Aiken's south-end development revitalized the city.

"I watched downtown almost dry up and fall off the end of the earth," he said.

Tax revenue from south-end businesses and residences is what paid for Aiken's beautification comeback, Mr. Waters said.

But some homeowners fear that the continued development of the southside will drive down the value of their homes.

"I don't blame them for that," said Mark Graham, the president of the Southern Partners engineering firm.

Mr. Graham has designed developments in Aiken since the mid-1970s, including parts of Gem Lakes, which he worked on with Mr. Waters.

As far as Mr. LeDuc can tell, property values have benefited. The city has repeatedly lowered its tax rate because of increasing property values.

Mr. O'Conner said the traffic isn't so bad that he'd move out of Gem Lakes.

His neighbors are great, he said, and the homes' manicured yards create a tranquil environment that seems distant from busy Silver Bluff Road.

"I've got mixed emotions," Mr. O'Conner said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.