Doing Business in the City
Development Process : Doing Business in the City of Aiken
Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance
Our Federal Government has adopted guidelines for access to business and public facilities in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although it is a federal and state requirement, our Building Inspections Division can assist you with the specifics necessary for ADA compliance. For assistance with other ADA questions, as well as any other building construction and renovation guidelines, please call our Building Inspections Division at 803-642-7675.
We provide a “one-stop” building permitting process. It allows licensed builders to submit a building permit application and two copies of construction plans and to pay all project fees at one location. On the permit application, the applicant will be required to provide information such as:
- The construction site address.
- Property 10-digit tax parcel number.
- Construction cost.
- Contractor name(s)
- Property setback lines.
- A description of the work to be done.
In addition, a plot plan (8.5 x 11 inch site schematic) showing the lot size, existing and proposed structures, any additions and setbacks (distances from the structure, or, addition to the property lines) should also be submitted. This plan also must be submitted for all new construction, additions, swimming pools, wells, storage buildings, detached garages or carports, and any other accessory structures.
NOTE: Contractors must present proof of appropriate State and City licenses when submitting permit applications.
Building Inspector’s staff reviews submitted building permit applications to ensure the construction address is inside our city limits. We also check to make sure each contractor, or subcontractor involved in the project has a City business license and appropriate State of South Carolina contractors’ licenses. Building Inspections staff ensures compliance with all applicable building codes, structural requirements, fire safety, and emergency egress issues. Building permit fees are based on project construction costs and are assessed when the permit application is made.
Our Planning Department staff verifies lot, block, and parcel numbers, determines the need for compliance with historic preservation requirements, conducts site/landscape plan or other review and determines if any other approvals are pre-required before building or grading permits are issued. They also complete a building permit application work sheet, indicating their comments on the project and approval, which is sent to the Building Inspector’s Division. Our Engineering and Public Works Department staff determines utility availability, including water, sanitary sewer, and storm drainage lines. They then assign fees based on any costs to extend our services. Engineering staff assigns a street address for the location, notes any easements or special conditions, and calculates storm drainage fees. They then fax their building permit application work sheet, with address verification, comments, fees and approval to our Building Inspections Division.
Building Inspections collects all fees associated with building permits. They verify the building permit has been reviewed and approved by the Planning and Engineering/Public Works Departments. The Building Official approves the building permit application. Notice of payment is then sent to our Finance Department. They issue a work order for any new water meters or for any required water and sewer taps.
Certificate of Occupancy
A new building or addition cannot be occupied until a Certificate of Occupancy is issued by our Building Official, after a final inspection. A Certificate of Occupancy for a commercial structure will only be issued after the installation of required landscaping materials has been approved by the Planning Department or a performance guarantee covering the cost of the uncompleted landscaping has been submitted to and approved by the Planning Department.
Façade Improvement Grant Program
- What is the Facade Improvement Grant Program? Grant program authorized annually by City Council to encourage the renovation of building facades in the downtown area.
- Who is eligible to participate?
- Any property zoned DB (Downtown Business) and located in the Old Aiken Overlay District or listed individually on the Aiken Historic Register. Click here to view a map of the eligible area.
- In order to be eligible, all work must first be approved through the Certificate of Appropriateness design review and approval process. Certificates are issued by the Design Review Board.
- The facade to be improved must be visible from a public right-of-way or alleyway.
- The grant may be used for the following exterior improvements: correction of exterior code violations, painting and siding, exterior repairs, door and window replacement, awnings, trim work, enhanced entryways, display windows, or any other work as approved by the planning director.
- The grant may NOT be used for the following: roofs, dormers, entrance floors, domes, cupolas, steeples, chimneys (unless part of the facade), and turrets.
- How much money am I eligible to receive? Eligible properties qualify for a lifetime maximum reimbursement of $10,000. Please check with Planning Dept. staff to verify the balance remaining on your property, as prior owners/tenants may have utilized program funds. The program is a 50/50 matching reimbursement program, meaning that once the approved work is complete and paid for, you may receive 50% of the value of your expenses up to $10,000 (or the balance left for the property).
- How do I participate in the program? Follow these simple steps:
- Check with Planning Dept. staff to determine the balance of funds available for your property and whether your proposed work is eligible.
- When you complete your Certificate of Appropriateness application for the eligible work, indicate your interest in the grant program by signing the appropriate section on the application form.
- Your application will be reviewed for compliance with the Old Aiken Design Guidelines. You may begin work once you have received your Certificate of Appropriateness.
- Once work is complete, complete the form provided by the Planning Dept. and submit to the Planning Dept. The City of Aiken will issue you a check upon receipt of your request and all necessary supporting documentation, as long as funds allow.
*If your project involves multiple elements, you can draw down reimbursement for individual approved elements as they are completed. You do not have to wait until all elements are completed to request reimbursement.
- Is the money guaranteed? Every year, City Council reviews the continuation of the program as a part of the annual budget process. There is no guarantee that City Council will renew the program each year, and the amount allocated may vary from year to year. Planning staff can provide you with an update on the current availability of funds for the program. Please note that submitting a Certificate of Appropriateness application does not guarantee that the funds will still be available when you complete your project. Reimbursements are made only after work is complete, and are issued on a first-come, first-served basis determined by work completion.
- For more information, contact the Planning Department at 803-642-7608 or via our online contact form, or visit our office in the Municipal Building (214 Park Avenue SW).
Grading permit applications are submitted to our Planning Department. Applicants also submit grading plans to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) located at 218 Beaufort Street, NE, Aiken, South Carolina. SCDHEC must approve grading permit issuances. Once approvals are received from SCDHEC, our Department of Engineering and Public Works, and our Planning Department, approves site plans. Our Zoning Official verifies that protective barriers have been installed around remaining trees. Our Planning Department typically then issues grading permits. Please note that our Zoning Official requires at least 48 hours advance notice before inspecting tree protective barriers.
Grading permits are not issued for nonresidential or multifamily residential developments until a site plan, including landscaping, has been approved by the Planning Department. City land and surfaces shall not be disturbed, or changed for any purpose, unless both prerequisites are met:
- The Engineering and Public Works Department has approved erosion, sedimentation, and surface drainage control plans and, when required, these plans have been approved by the local Conservation District Office.
- Our Planning Department has issued a grading permit.
In addition, these grading permits also may not be issued until our Zoning Official confirms that protective barriers required around existing trees to remain are in place.
The purpose of the Land Development Regulations is to provide for the orderly development of the City of Aiken and its environs through the regulation of the development of land. These standards are intended to encourage the following:
- To promote the health, safety and general welfare of the public.
- To promote sound and timely development consistent with the comprehensive plan.
- To encourage the development of an economically sound and stable city.
- To promote orderly and beneficial development through appropriate design and layout.
- To protect the values of land and buildings.
- To minimize conflicts among land uses.
- To promote adequate streets and roads, water and sewerage systems, parks,schools, and other public facilities.
- To promote efficient vehicular and pedestrian traffic circulation.
- To establish reasonable standards of design.
- To promote reasonable procedures for the subdivision and re-subdivision of land.
- To insure proper legal descriptions and monumenting of subdivided land.
- To preserve the natural beauty of the land and promote the wise management of its natural resources.
- To secure safety from fire, flood, and other hazards.
These Regulations shall apply to any subdivision of land as defined herein located within the corporate limits.
To learn more about the City of Aiken Land Development Regulations see https://edoc.cityofaikensc.gov/weblink/0/edoc/228297/Land%20Development%20Regulations.pdf
Other Development Applications
Requests for other types of approvals–including annexation, rezoning, subdivision, or conditional use– are handled by our Planning Department. Application packages and assistance with the process are available from that Department.
Parking capacity, spacing, and location requirements vary within the different zoning categories. To learn more about approval of parking spaces, off-street parking and loading, see Chapter 4, Article 5 of the City of Aiken’s Zoning Ordinance (3247).
- Our permitting process starts with an informal meeting, or pre-application review. This first meeting can often save you time and money by eliminating or reducing problems and conflicts. Our Building Inspectors can often answer many of your questions by telephone at 803-642-7675. They may suggest that you need further input from our City Engineer (803-642-7610) or our Planning Department 803-642-7608. If you have specific questions, please call directly to that department for assistance.
- Building site and landscape approvals are different from building permit approval. During site approval, the zoning and landscaping issues of a site are reviewed.
- The building permit process includes the technical aspects of a building’s construction and, with different stages and types of development some projects may require more extensive review.
- Under the City’s permitting process, all construction plans, building permit applications, and building fees are submitted to the Building Inspections Division located at 214 Park Avenue, SW, Room 201 on the second floor. If you are new to the plan review process, or have questions, please call 803-642-7675.
- Any person who does any type of construction in the City of Aiken for profit is required to obtain a business license prior to starting work and also a building permit, if necessary.
- Generally, review for a building permit takes approximately 7-10 business days.
- The majority of time, our Building Inspections Division is unable to schedule specific times for an inspection. The number, type, and location of inspections, plus City staff workload dictate daily how the inspection schedule is arranged. However, there are occasions when it is necessary for arrangements to be made for a specific time to conduct an inspection. These scheduled inspections are done on a case-by-case basis and arranged by the Building Official. Please call 803-642-7675 for more information.
Re-inspections are defined as any trip to a job site by our Building Inspections officials that are in addition to those inspections specifically listed on the building permit card. They are also any trips made as a result of condemned or disapproved work, calls for inspections prior to work being ready for inspection, and any additional trips made because access to the work site or structure is not provided.
Re-inspection fees for residential and commercial construction projects are $50.00 for each re-inspection. These fees must be paid to the Building Inspections Division prior to any re-inspections being done.
We regulate the size, number, and location of signs within our limits. A permit is required for the erection, alteration, or reconstruction of any sign, except for:
- Any legal notice or public traffic directional/safety sign issued and required to be posted by any federal, state, county, or municipal government or an official sign as so designated by resolution of City Council.
- Any private street name sign or an on-site traffic directional/safety sign where the sign face does not exceed four square feet per sign face, has no more than 25 percent of the sign face devoted to commercial copy or graphics, and is no greater than three feet in height.
- Seasonal decorations which do not cause hazardous glare or create a nuisance for pedestrians, vehicle drivers, or adjacent properties.
- Permanent signs in residential areas advertising security companies provided they neither exceed one square foot in size nor are placed more than five feet from the primary structure entrance.
- Banners conforming with Section 4.4.8.B of the City of Aiken Zoning Ordinance.
- Signs required for insurance purposes, provided they are no larger than five square feet.
- Signs that, in the Planning Director’s opinion, are to be viewed from the inside of a building only.
Our sign regulations are part of the Zoning Ordinance, and variances to any part of the Zoning Ordinance require approval through the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). Variances, Special Exceptions, and Administrative Appeal applications are processed through our Planning Department 803-642-7608. Please note that properties within an overlay district may need to seek Design Review Board approval for any signage.
Site/Landscape Plan Approval
For a commercial, institutional, or multifamily residential project, site/landscape plan approval is required in order to obtain a grading and/or building permit. Site Plan review addresses different issues than those in a building permit application, and the site/landscape plans may be submitted before the building permit is requested. Approval of the site/landscape plan is necessary before a building permit is issued. Site/landscape plans, including all supporting information, are submitted to our Planning Department.
Site/landscape plans may be submitted at the same time as or separately from building permits. Approval must be received before a grading or building permit can be obtained to begin work on a commercial project (including office, institutional, or industrial), or a multifamily residential project. A site/landscape plan may be approved by staff without a public hearing unless a variance from the Zoning Ordinance is needed which requires approval by our Board of Zoning Appeals.
The Process at a Glance
- Before a grading or building permit can be obtained to begin work, site/landscape plan approval must be received.
- Site/landscape plan approval is handled by City staff unless a variance is required from the Zoning Ordinance which must be considered by the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).
- Plans, application, and any fees are submitted to our Planning Department located in the Municipal Building at 214 Park Avenue, SW, Room 202. An application packet for a site/landscape plan is available at the Planning Department or at www.cityofaikensc.gov.
- The Planning Department distributes the plans to other City Departments for review.
- A letter, with review comments from City staff, is normally sent to applicants within one week.
- If necessary, applicants submit revised plans and/or additional information to our Planning Department.
- Once all City staff comments are addressed, the plans are approved and applicants are eligible to receive a building permit once applicable requirements for those permits are met. All trees to remain on the site must be staked with protective tree fencing before the grading permit will be issued.
Tree Protection and Landscaping Requirements
Aiken has emphasized that new growth and development should enhance our area, and we promote protecting existing trees and installing new landscaping. Our natural landscape is required to be preserved whenever possible. On property zoned for uses other than single-family residential no Significant or Grand tree may be removed unless one or more of the following can be demonstrated to the satisfaction of our Horticulturist.
- Good forestry management requires removing certain trees.
- A tree is diseased, dying, or dead.
- A tree causes a safety hazard to nearby buildings, pedestrians, or vehicular traffic.
- A pine, pecan, or magnolia is dropping debris or sap that significantly affects vehicles in a parking lot. Any of these trees that are removed will have to be replaced with an equal number of caliper inches. If there is no replacement room, money may be paid to our Tree Fund in accordance with Zoning Ordinance Article 6, Section 4.6.4.B.2.d.
- A tree is causing significant structural damage to a building or other structure that reasonable maintenance will not prevent.
- A tree is interfering with an existing underground utility line.
- It is necessary to allow essential road construction for a site. We require the Grand and Significant tree inches removed to be replaced when the site is developed.
NOTE: Land zoned Planned Residential requires a single-family use concept plan.
Tree Protection and Landscaping Ordinances Variances or Exceptions
Unless a property is a detached single-family residence any tree removal must first be approved by the Planning Department.
Plan approvals may be granted by our staff. A particular variance from the Tree Protection and Landscaping Provisions in the Zoning Ordinance may be required. Zoning Ordinance variances may be requested from the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) through the Planning Department. Zoning Ordinance variance request and tree removal questions are answered by our Planning Department staff at 803-642-7608.
The Zoning Ordinance is administered by the Planning Department. Staff members interpret and enforce the Ordinance, including whether or not a site or lot will allow a particular, proposed business use. If you need an immediate answer to zoning issues, including permitted uses, setbacks, parking requirements, whether your property is in an overlay district subject to other regulations, or signs, call the Planning Department at 803-642-7608.