West Richland Avenue (Aiken, SC) corridor improvement
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SUMMARY: WRIT is the West Richland Improvement Team. We are concerned about the 2.8 miles of Richland Avenue West in Aiken, SC, from Morgan Street to Hitchcock Parkway. Our concerns encompass issues of PRESERVATION/ REDEVELOPMENT and DETERIORATION/CRIME. By signing this petition, we are expressing our support for a grass-roots campaign dedicated to improving the Richland Avenue West corridor by the following means:
1. We OPPOSE demolition of the Old Aiken Hospital (formerly Aiken County Government offices). We strongly SUPPORT renovation and repurposing of this historic building.
2. We OPPOSE the presence of payday lenders and run-down motels and the incidence of drugs and street-level crime undeniably associated with these businesses.
3. We WELCOME and support reputable businesses that provide necessary services for our community, but payday lenders and run-down motels that harbor drug activity contribute nothing good to our town.
4. We DEMAND more law enforcement to deter criminals from the Richland Avenue West corridor and the adjoining neighborhoods.
5. We ASK you to work with us to build a community that meets the needs of all its citizens in sustainable and ethical ways.
DETAILED PETITION LETTER:
To: Aiken County Council (Gary Bunker, Chair; Kathy Rawls, District 1; Camille Furgiuele, District 2; Danny Feagin, District 3; Chuck Smith, District 4; Sandy Haskell, District 5; Phil Napier, District 6; Andrew Siders, District 7; Willar Hightower, Jr., District 8)
To: Aiken City Council (Rick Osbon, Mayor; Gail Diggs, District 1; Lessie Price, District 2; Dick Dewar, District 3; Ed Girardeau, District 4; Andrea Gregory, District 5; Ed Woltz, District 6)
To: Aiken County Council (Andrew Siders, Acting Chair; Kathy Rawls, District 1; Camille Furgiuele, District 2; Danny Feagin, District 3; Chuck Smith, District 4; Sandy Haskell, District 5; Phil Napier, District 6; Andrew Siders, District 7; Willar Hightower, Jr., District 8)
Dear Council Members:
We are writing to express our concerns and to elicit your support for a grass-roots campaign to improve the Richland Avenue West corridor. We are specifically distressed about the 2.8 miles of Richland Avenue West from Morgan Street to Robert M. Bell / Hitchcock Parkway (Highway 118). Our concerns are broadly two-fold, encompassing issues of both PRESERVATION/REDEVELOPMENT and DETERIORATION/CRIME.
On the subject of PRESERVATION and REDEVELOPMENT:
We oppose demolition of the historic old Aiken Hospital (formerly Aiken County Government offices). We strongly support renovation and repurposing of this historic building. We are not blind to the condition problems (mold, decay, possible asbestos tile and insulation, etc.), and we understand the costs that would be associated with renovation. Nonetheless, we envision this unique and historic property as a jewel in downtown Aiken – a mixed-use property with professional/commercial occupants on the lower floors and loft-style apartments on the upper floors. (As a model for what could be achieved, we point to the success of Augusta's Enterprise Mill, which was saved from the wrecking ball by a visionary preservation developer.) Imagine how a thriving residential/commercial property at this location could effectively extend the westward reach of downtown Aiken and be a seed for improvements along the remainder of the West Richland corridor.
We are aware that County Council is moving forward with plans to demolish the Old Aiken Hospital, in hopes of attracting a buyer/developer for the cleared property. We believe this approach is uninspired and short-sighted. We ask that Councils work together to identify developers with experience in rehabilitating similar properties. Preservation incentives and other economic enticements within Councils' purview could attract developers willing to repurpose the Old Aiken Hospital into a successful mixed use enterprise.
On the subject of DETERIORATION and CRIME in the Richland Avenue West corridor:
We oppose the presence of payday lenders and budget motels and the incidence of drugs and street-level crime undeniably associated with these businesses. On both sides of Richland Avenue, our neighborhoods are battling an upward trend in car burglary, household breaking-and-entering, and property theft. We have cultivated productive relationships with Aiken Public Safety and the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. We know and look out for our neighbors, reminding each other to lock cars and houses and secure our property. But our efforts are undermined – and our property values are decreased – by nearby businesses that attract criminals with drugs and guns.
It is important to note that this is not an argument about classism, but about battling crime in our community. Run-down motels are havens for crime, including the actual production of methamphetamine and other drugs. The proliferation of payday lenders near these “meth motels” is no coincidence. Short-term lending is a quick and easy way to borrow money to finance another week at the budget motel to produce more drugs for consumption and sale.
Payday lending also perpetuates a life of indebtedness for those who can least afford it and, in many cases, those who are unaware of the debt burden. Our neighboring states of Georgia and North Carolina have prohibited payday lending. In other regions, where states have failed to act, individual municipalities have eliminated or reduced predatory lending by means of referenda and zoning.
We welcome and support reputable businesses that provide necessary services for our community (for example, food banks, shelters, halfway houses, and assistance organizations), but run-down motels and payday lenders contribute nothing good to our town. We ask for more law enforcement to deter criminals from the Richland Avenue West corridor. We ask you to work with us to build a community that meets the needs of all its citizens in sustainable and ethical ways.
With optimism for the future of our neighborhoods and our community, we thank you for your consideration.
Aiken County Administrator
Aiken City Manager
Aiken City Planning Director
Aiken Council of Neighborhoods
Kalmia Hill Neighborhood Watch
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