NC city residents threaten lawsuit over city's fire station's plans
The lawyer of a group of residents who oppose North Augusta's plans to rezone for the station said "there's a lot of commitment to go the route of legal attack"
By James Folker
The Augusta Chronicle
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Tempers flared Monday night among a group of residents who oppose North Augusta's plans to build a fire station next to the historic district, and the group's lawyer cautioned leaders that "there's lots of commitment in this room to go the route of legal attack."
The residents, who live in or near the Butler Avenue Historic District – which includes 12 homes on the National Register of Historic Places – gave a presentation to the Planning Commission on Thursday, when it rejected the city's request to rezone for the fire station, 7-0. The group wanted to make the presentation again to council members Monday.
Mayor Bob Pettit agreed, but he called the group's leader, former SRS mechanical engineer Ken Powell, to ask that the presentation be cut to about 25 minutes. He left Powell a voicemail message, and Powell says he got it but never responded.
After Powell spoke for about 12 minutes Monday night, Pettit asked that the next speaker, Steve Bryant, keep his part of the presentation focused on the two properties the city has asked to rezone for the fire station. He asked him to not talk about the possible Public Safety headquarters on a third property, where the Seven Gables burned to the ground in 2008, or about a later possible request to change the Neighborhood Preservation Overlay to accommodate either or both.
That's when the fireworks started. Pettit reminded Powell that he had asked for an abbreviated presentation and Powell responded: "I know what you asked me but I want the residents of North Augusta to hear the list of non-compliances with what your proposal was to the planning commission. ... I'm not going to quiet down for the sake of getting through this meeting."
Pettit acknowledged that information about the third parcel had been in the planning commissioners' packets; that issue was not before the commission and it didn't take it up.
Powell asked why it was included in the packets, and Pettit said he had made a mistake in the submission, prompting outbursts and laughter from the 25 or so residents.
Pettit said the city doesn't have the money to build the headquarters and might not if Capital Project Sales Tax 4 doesn't pass in November.
Powell said Pettit was shutting down the process. The residents have said that since the city might eventually use all three parcels, all three should be discussed to avoid "spot zoning" and possible legal action.
Bryant finished his presentation, then Dave Leverette spoke about the history of the area and James U. Jackson's vision for North Augusta, which he said was under the greatest threat it has ever faced. Then the lawyer, Dione Carroll of Aiken, made a pitch to the council to wait until the new planning director starts work, and warned them to be careful about the process.
It took about 50 minutes, nearly all of the council's hourlong study session. No action is taken in study sessions.
After the study session, the council moved to the regular meeting, and at the end of it, Pam Ebbs rose to speak.
Ebbs, who lives near the Seven Gables and recalls watching it burn, said she attended the planning commission meeting last week and "everybody was so negative, I felt sorry for the commissioners."
She said she was for putting the fire station where the city wants it, and thinks many other city residents do, too.
"I think you're doing a wonderful job," she said to council members.
Also after the meeting, Powell was asked whether he was concerned that the tone of Monday's meeting might undermine his group's efforts.
"I am," he said. "But I think he (Pettit) started it because he didn't want council to hear (the presentation)."
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