Originally created 11/27/02

Owner of mile track sees win in ruling



AIKEN - The owner of McGhees' Mile Track said Tuesday that avoiding Aiken's historic designation was a significant victory, though objections to how he uses his land still loom.

Bruce McGhee spent almost six months going before city panels that were evaluating his horse facility on Banks Mill Road, home to the third leg of the city's Triple Crown horse race. But the Aiken City Council ended the bureaucratic process Monday night with a 5-2 vote against designating his horse-training facility as a historic site.

The controversy began when the city's Historic Preservation Commission entertained a petition requesting the historic designation. The panel voted in favor of the request, which Mr. McGhee said was an attempt to thwart his business opportunities. Had his property been designated historic, the commission could have reviewed any external changes.

After the preservation commission's decision, the planning commission voted against the petition, which was filed by Kiki Blalock in April and signed by several prominent members of Aiken's horse community. It came soon after the city granted Mr. McGhee permission to construct a grooms quarters and restaurant, among other things.

Petitioners said they wanted to protect the track's history. It was built in 1936 and has been home to several influential horse trainers.

"It's important to maintain the historic character of Aiken," said Jane Page Thompson, a petitioner who said the historic commission had been inaccurately depicted as unfair.

Mr. McGhee still faces opposition from Mrs. Blalock, who has taken her objections of his alcohol licensing to the state Court of Appeals. Petitioners also have the right to appeal the city council's decision.

Jon Ozmint, an attorney representing the petitioners, said no decision on an appeal had been made.

Meanwhile, Mr. McGhee said he won't start new projects such as the restaurant until he has the business to support it. He called the city council's decision a "victory for the American way."

"I'm beginning to look and see a future for this place," he said.

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