A prominent suburban couple has agreed to limit the use of their 10-bedroom mansion for noisy receptions and parties, providing a subdued resolution to a zoning dispute that simmered for months.
Tuesday, Richland County Council agreed to rezone 2.9 acres owned by Charles and Valerie Aiken to a mix of commercial and residential uses. That will allow them to continue using their home, off Broad River Road, as a bed and breakfast, for vacation rentals and as an events venue.
The couple and their Elm Abode neighbors initially tried to get their agreed-upon limits included in county documents. But zoning officials could not be put in the position of monitoring how many times the home was rented each month or whether music was too loud, they said. So the limits are part of a private pact — enforceable only by a lawsuit.
But neighborhood relations that were tense in July were cordial by December, and both sides said they don’t anticipate problems.
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“As a result of us talking and working with the neighborhood, we’ve come up with something workable,” Charles Aiken told the council.
“If you give us a chance, I think we’ve got this,” resident Ina Fort chimed in.
Two residents spoke against the agreement, negotiated by lawyers hired by the neighborhood association and by the Aikens. One of them, Les Clark, said the Aikens had flaunted county zoning laws prohibiting them from operating a business out of their home. Zoning officials made no attempt to enforce the law, either, he said.
The Aikens agreed to provide a neighborhood “block captain” living across the street from them with their monthly bookings. And Fort, a 38-year resident of Elm Abode, is to be the point of contact for neighbors with complaints about late-night noise or traffic at 1335 Elm Abode Terrace.
“It won’t require calling the police. It won’t require calling zoning,” neighborhood leader Michael Haigler said. “You just call them and say, ‘Y’all, it’s too loud, turn it down.’”
The agreement stipulates that the couple limit events to two weekend nights per month and four weekend days per month. During the week, events — involving use of the site by more than 50 guests — can be more frequent, occurring as many as 10 days and nights each month.
Music has to be inside, except for “soft music associated with outdoor activities such as a wedding ceremony.” And all music has to be “turned down” by 11 p.m.
The Aikens said there shouldn’t be further problems.
But there were plenty for their first two years in the neighborhood: Nearby residents complained about rowdy crowds, litter, loud music and cars parked along narrow neighborhood streets.
“The Aikens were just new to the business, so now they know what’s a good event and what isn’t,” said their lawyer, Toby Ward.
At one point, the county ticketed the couple for a zoning violation, operating a business out of their home.
Ward said the county resolved a 14-year-old zoning dilemma. Haigler said most residents agreed it was unrealistic for the 1930s-era house, with 10 bedrooms and seven bathrooms, to be used strictly as a single-family home.
“We will do our level best to make them happy with what we do there,” Ward promised.
The council’s preliminary vote, on a motion by Councilman Paul Livingston, was unanimous. The council votes on the issue twice more.