Aiken is a unique place. Why? Because of its history. From its broad parkways to its rambling “cottages,” Aiken is the happy product of over 150 years of home builders and store owners and civic leaders who took pride in their town. Together, they built one of the most picturesque communities in the southeast, if not the country. And now it’s ours to sustain.
Studies show that historic preservation enhances property values and attracts visitors and that communities with active preservation programs are among the country’s most popular places to live and take the lion’s share of their states’ tourism dollars. (Aiken is one of 28 Certified Local Governments in SC.)
However, tourism and property values are only part of the reason Aiken cares about historic preservation. By preserving Aiken’s historic character, we not only improve the appearance and viability of our community, we enhance the quality of our lives. At a time of dizzying technology leaps and lifestyle changes, historic preservation is one way of remembering who we are and of securing for ourselves and our children that rarest of all luxuries in a fast-changing world: a sense of permanence.
For any structure in an Aiken Historic Register District, regardless of whether the structure is historic, a “Certificate of Appropriateness” is needed before any exterior alteration, construction, demolition, or relocation is done.
Among common kinds of work that require approval are: applying new siding or roofing; painting an unpainted surface or completely removing paint; replacing windows; installing shutters, awnings, storm windows, or doors; building extensions; adding new porches or enclosing old ones; removing chimneys; demolishing outbuildings; constructing fences or walls; paving walks and driveways.
Be aware that a “structure” is not just a building, but can be a sign, tennis court, light standard, swimming pool, gazebo, arbor, trellis, wall, fence, dog run, paddock, deck, or patio. (Examples of things that are not “structures”: play equipment, benches, mailboxes, birdbaths.)
There are many things you can do that do not require approval: interior renovations, for example, or re-painting an exterior surface that is already painted. In fact, all routine maintenance and repair work, interior or exterior, is not subject to review, as long as the work does not change the structure’s materials or exterior appearance. Aiken’s ordinance also does not, in general, cover vegetation.
Finally, if your property is not a Landmark, you may be able to make an exterior change without approval if the work is not visible from a public street right-of-way. This exception does not apply, however, if the only thing obscuring the view from the street is a fence or vegetation.
For any work that requires approval, you will need a “Certificate of Appropriateness” before starting. The process is simple:
- Submit an application. In addition to the application form (available at the Planning Department), you will normally need to submit the following for new construction, exterior alterations, and additions: scale drawings showing the location and exterior design; specifications or other information describing proposed materials, textures, etc.; and photographs. For demolition or relocation, photographs and an explanation are usually necessary. Complete applications should be brought to the Planning Department at least 15 calendar days before the next Board meeting.
- Appear at the Design Review Board Public Meeting. Either you or your representative must appear at the public hearing when your application is considered to answer any questions the Board might have.
If you would like to see a structure or neighborhood added to the Aiken Historic Register as a Historic Site or District, you don’t have to wait for the Board to act. The Zoning Ordinance allows the owner, any member of the Design Review Board or any member of City Council to apply for designation of property within the City limits. For the Aiken Historic Register designation, City Council must conclude that it:
- is significant in American, South Carolina, or Aiken history, architecture, or culture;
- has integrity of location, design, setting, materials, or workmanship that needs to be protected or preserved; and meets one or more of the following criteria:
- it is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to history;
- it is associated with the lives of persons significant in history;
- it has distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of architecture or construction; represents the work of a master; possesses high artistic values; or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction;
- it has yielded or is likely to yield information important in prehistory or history; or it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.