Originally created 01/17/04

Woman fights planned landfill



NEW HOLLAND - Kathy Russell moved onto 40 acres in the rural eastern part of Aiken County 10 years ago, hoping to avoid the overdevelopment she experienced in nearby Lexington County.

"We chose to move out here to hide from the world," she said Friday, standing on unpaved Old Chalk Bed Road, the dirt lane that runs in front of her home. "This is our sanctuary."

The peace and quiet she sought was threatened last spring when land near her home was targeted for a landfill, even though there are homes on either side of the location.

Residents were almost helpless. The county's zoning laws were so lax that landfills were permitted next to residential areas. But residents collected 200 signatures and, for now, the developer has taken the proposal off the table.

In the wake of this conflict, the Aiken County Council slapped a moratorium on landfills and called for a revamping of the county's zoning and land use ordinance. They say they want additional classifications that provide them flexibility when faced with zoning requests.

As originally drafted about a decade ago, the ordinance has continually caused council members headaches because of its broadly-worded classifications. For example, the same section of the zoning ordinance that covers a gas station might also set the standards for a small chemical factory.

On Friday, County Administrator Clay Killian and Assistant Administrator Joan Donnelly spent three hours with county planning officials reviewing changes made to the zoning ordinance that were prepared by consultant Dan Vismor, Mr. Killian said.

He declined to discuss specifics because "we still have a lot of work to do." The updated ordinance likely won't be approved until spring or early summer.

The end result, though, Mr. Killian and council members said, will be a more thoroughly detailed ordinance that will likely create buffer classifications between neighborhoods and commercial or industrial areas.

The county's largest cities, Aiken and North Augusta, already have more detailed zoning ordinances. County Councilman Chuck Smith said he'd like to steal a page from their books and require site plans for new development that must be approved before building starts, and reapproved if the plan changes.

Right now, someone could get approval for a gas station, sell the property, and someone else could build something more intrusive, Mr. Smith said.

"This is about planning for the future and building a community that supports multiple concepts and structures, and tries to create a quality of life in all areas rather than one or two," he said.

With more than 1,000 square miles of land, Aiken County has vast swaths of undeveloped acreage that make it a prime place for new neighborhoods and commercial centers.

The running joke on the county council is that anything goes in Aiken County except nuclear waste dumps, salvage yards or sexually explicit shops.

An instance earlier this month pointed out that the county is in a race against time. The county council placed a hurried moratorium Jan. 6 on billboards, which started sprouting up more frequently along U.S. Highway 1 and Interstate 20 after they were restricted in Augusta.

Again, the county's zoning ordinance was lax, doing little to restrict the signs.

Residents in rural parts of the county have voiced concerns over mobile home parks, which are attractive to developers, who can subdivide a small piece of acreage to make more money.

"They want a zoning category that would allow them to do the things they normally do on a farm, but they don't want trailer parks located in the area," said District 1 Councilwoman Kathy Rawls, who represents the rural eastern section of the county.

Ms. Russell said she had nothing against mobile homes; she lives in one. It's mobile home parks, she said, that decrease surrounding property values.

Her partner, Martin Ring, whom she lives with, bought acreage all around their home to make sure a mobile home park wasn't built nearby. It will help them preserve what Ms. Russell calls the "dead zone."

The couple's land, about halfway between Wagener and Batesburg, is 14 miles from the nearest grocery store.

Ms. Russell said trying to stop the landfill was the first time she'd taken an interest in her local government. At 46, she registered to vote for the first time afterward.

"I'll fight for what I believe in," she said.

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