People living in a middle-class neighborhood off Broad River Road don’t want a restored mansion there used for large parties hosted by owners they characterized Tuesday as insensitive and influential.
But owners Charles and Valerie Aiken said they’ve toned down the events they schedule at their 11,500-square-foot home on Elm Abode Terrace and will try to accommodate neighbors if Richland County Council will rezone their home and three acres. Changing the land use from residential to office/institutional would allow them to host receptions, which they acknowledged doing though it’s not allowed under county law.
The council delayed a decision on the issue after a 90-minute debate attended by about 100 people. Councilman Paul Livingston, who represents the area, said he’s torn and expressed hope the Aikens might make concessions. The issue returns to the council Sept. 23.
Meanwhile, residents said they’re tired of parties that last until all hours with loud guests who park along narrow streets and leave trash behind.
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They said the Aikens have a business that’s running roughshod over their quiet neighborhood and point out that rezoning the property would allow all kinds of potential uses, from a frat house to pet kennels.
“Rezoning would allow one house to destroy the ambiance ... of the entire neighborhood,” said resident Ed Madden.
“I no longer allow my children to play in the front yard” because of the traffic, said Lee Fort, who has lived in the neighborhood all his life.
“I’ve had to put earplugs in my ears at night to go to bed,” David White said.
But supporters of the Aikens noted that they restored a place that was vacant, run-down and attracting vandals into the neighborhood.
“The people who remodeled it did a remarkable job. They should be proud to have it in their neighborhood,” said Carl Schroeder, who said he doesn’t live in the neighborhood but has property there.
Connie Breeden, a board member with the S.C. HIV-AIDS Council, said the couple has hosted free receptions and a board retreat for the agency. “We feel the Aikens are providing a service to the community,” she said.
Byron Counts said events at a nearby church on Broad River Road have been just as inconvenient for him, with members blocking his driveway.
“As moral people, we’re supposed to be able to communicate and work things out,” he said.
Property manager Joseph Mitchell said the Aikens are willing to create a back entrance into their property, plant a row of cedars as a noise barrier and create a 60-space parking lot, among other things. And the couple’s lawyer, Toby Ward, said the house won’t be preserved for future generations without allowing what he called limited business operations.
After 37 people spoke, Livingston outlined his mixed feelings about the case.
The evening’s discord extended to the council after chairman Norman Jackson refused Councilman Seth Rose’s request for a roll-call vote – twice. Such a request is routine when the council votes by voice and it’s not clear whether the “yes” or “no” has the majority. Jackson ruled the vote to delay a decision passed and he refused Rose’s request to have members raise their hands to vote.