Fairlawn Plantation deal crumbles, but lost Greenbelt program fuels new idea
A deal for Charleston County to purchase the massive Fairlawn Plantation in the Francis Marion National Forest under its rural Greenbelt program has fallen apart.
By the numbers
Charleston County voters approved a half-cent sales tax in 2004, and part of the money was designated for land conservation, parks and open space under a greenbelt program. Eight years later, here’s what remains in those pots of money (in millions):
PROGRAM ALLOCATION COMMITTED REMAINING
Rural $65.3 $53.4 $11.9
Urban $28.5 $24.5 $4.1
PRC $36.0 $36.0 $0
And County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor, who last week voted in favor of the controversial completion of Interstate 526, hopes the nearly $12 million for the Fairlawn deal instead will be used to compensate some Johns and James island residents who live near the road’s proposed path. Under his plan, the county could purchase conservation easements on properties that are affected by the new road, Pryor said. Property owners could keep their land, and the county would pay them if they agreed not to develop it.
Councilman Dickie Schweers, who was a consistent opponent of I-526, said that’s not a proper use of rural Greenbelt money.
“If you’re using the money to pay people off, it’s a terrible misappropriation of funds,” he said.
And it simply wouldn’t make sense to preserve green space along an interstate, he said.
“Once you build an interstate, you do interstate things next to it.”
A date has not been set for County Council to discuss the matter, and the group does not meet again until Jan. 3.
Candace Ackerman, 45, lives on Delaney Drive on James Island, a dirt road where family members have been since 1936.
The proposed route for I-526 passes within a few hundred feet of some of her family members’ homes. She grew up on Delaney Drive. And her daughter, who now lives in Texas, was hoping one day to return home and raise her family there.
Getting some money for the road’s impact would be nice, Ackerman said.
“But in a perfect world, I would prefer I-526 doesn’t happen.”
She also said that if money for compensation becomes available, she thinks it should first be given to the people who would be the most harmed financially. Some people who addressed County Council before it voted on I-526 said they would be ruined financially by the impact of the road, she said.
Charleston County’s Greenbelt program is funded by the half-cent sales tax, which voters approved in 2004. The money is used for land conservation, parks and open space.
The $12 million for the Fairlawn tract would have come from Greenbelt money set aside for preserving rural land and consumed all the remaining funds for rural land purchases. It would have been the biggest purchase ever made under the program, both in terms of size and price.
The purchase would have a been a boon for conservationists because the Fairlawn tract is the largest piece of privately held land inside the Francis Marion Forest.
Hugh Lane, chairman of the county’s Greenbelt Bank board, said he was surprised that anybody was considering using rural Greenbelt money for I-526, because the proposed road would be built in the urban part of the county.
Allocating money for that purpose would be tough, he said.
The Greenbelt program was set up so 70 percent of the money available would go to purchase land and conservation easements in rural areas and 30 percent in urban areas. Changing those percentages would require a two-thirds vote of County Council, he said.
The 6,000-acre Fairlawn tract deal was done in by the exclusive hunting rights of previous owners, according to a letter from The Nature Conservancy to Charleston County withdrawing the application. The current property owners were willing to sell it, but Fairlawn is encumbered by those rights, which could prevent the public from having access for decades.
Ritchie Belser Jr., one of about 40 former owners who have lifetime hunting rights, said he wasn’t happy the deal fell through but wouldn’t comment further. He referred questions to attorney Gray Taylor, who did not return a call for comment.
Belser previously said he thought the former owners’ arrangement meant they would have exclusive use of the property until all of them who had such rights had died. The youngest is now 38 years old.
Belser said last summer that he grew up hunting on Fairlawn, and that hunting season is year-round for some types of game. It wouldn’t be safe for the public to have access to the property while hunting was going on, he said. And the price for which the previous owners sold the land reflected the hunting rights.
Pryor said he was opposed to the Fairlawn purchase because the public either wouldn’t have access to it, or would have limited access.
“For that kind of money, the public should have access all the time,” he said.
And, he added, the property already essentially is protected, because nobody can develop it with the existing hunting rights in place.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.