Direction of Charleston Greenbelt Funding an Issue

The NerveBy Warwick Jones
Citizen Reporter

Differences seem to be growing on Charleston County Council as to the direction of greenbelt funding.

Some council members contend that too much has been spent on conservation easements and more funding needs to be directed toward acquiring property where the public has access.

The difference came to a head at the Oct. 20 meeting when a project approved by the Greenbelt Bank failed to win approval by the council finance committee, with the vote being divided evenly.

Councilman J. Elliott Summey was absent last night and his vote will be critical when the council meets again and the item is again considered.

Council members Henry Darby, Joe Qualey and Anna B. Johnson, and Chairman Teddie Pryor voted against approval. The slow deliberation by Council member Vic Rawl suggests he too has reservations about the financing of conservation easements.

The financing at issue was a grant by the Greenbelt Bank to purchase a conservation easement over a 19-acre parcel at 1463 Grans Avenue on Wadmalaw Island for $76,000. The property abuts other protected properties.

The Low Country Open Land Trust sought the easement. The owner of the property retains the right to construct two new dwellings but cannot subdivide the property.

Darby did not speak specifically against the application but noted that in his view too much funding had been directed to easements where there was not the opportunity for public access.

There was little discussion before the vote, though afterwards councilman Dickie Schweers voiced strong concern. He noted that funds for greenbelts flowed from the half-cent sales tax that had been approved by referendum.

Conservation easements were a major tool in creating greenbelts. He probably had more to say but seemed at a loss for words. “It’s beyond me,” he lamented over the lost vote.

The other rural greenbelt item, an amendment to a previously approved application to the Greenbelt Bank, was approved by the committee, but only barely.

Johnson deliberated over her vote and seemed to be swayed by the fact that there would be public access for one day a year. She did not join Darby, Qualey and Chairman Pryor in opposing the amendment.

The amendment reflected a change in the amount of land to be held under the conservation easement – a drop to 126.9 aces from 148.9 acres. The funding remained unchanged at $350,000. The owners will open the property – Graves Ashe Point Farm – to the public during the Edisto Island Open Land Trust annual “Back to Nature” event.