Approve Fairlawn purchase
Charleston County Council can make an important contribution to rural preservation and limiting urban sprawl today by approving the purchase of Fairlawn Plantation near Awendaw. Protecting the 6,000-acre tract would help achieve the various goals of the greenbelt program: restraining relentless development, preserving habitat and keeping scenic areas intact.
And it will provide wide opportunity for public access, the complaints of two county councilmen notwithstanding.
The acreage will be added to the Francis Marion National Forest. Except for restricted access to hunting, the tract will have the same public access as the rest of the national forest. Eventually, the private hunting rights will be ceded.
In a column on our Commentary page Monday, Council Chairman Teddie Pryor and Councilman Henry Darby cautioned against buying Fairlawn, saying the money would be better spent for park land.
But the rural portion of the county’s greenbelt program is focused on conservation rather than providing for additional parks. Some $28 million in urban greenbelt money already has gone primarily for that purpose, not counting the $36 million allocation to the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, also obtained by the 2004 referendum on the half-cent sales tax.
The remaining funds in the rural greenbelt program should be spent to ensure that the Lowcountry landscape doesn’t wholly serve as a backdrop for residential and resort development.
Adding Fairlawn to the national forest will mean that one of the largest private in-holdings in the Francis Marion won’t ever be developed. It will maintain integrity of the forest habitat in an area that would be particularly endangered by sprawl. Limiting sprawl eases the pressures of increased traffic and the costly demands for public infrastructure. The purchase also will help forest management by making controlled burns easier to handle.
The $11.9 million deal works out to $1,900 an acre, one of the best prices for land bought in the greenbelt program.
As part of the national forest, the Fairlawn tract will offer the opportunity for public enjoyment, on trails and streams, for camping, hiking, canoeing and bird watching.
“It is open to the public 365 days a year,” said Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League. “It has as much public access as any property purchased in the greenbelt program.”
The purchase of Fairlawn, unanimously recommended by the county Greenbelt Bank Board, will absorb most of the remaining assets of the rural greenbelt program, which has so far preserved 16,000 acres through conservation easements and land acquisition.
Fairlawn will serve as the capstone of that effort, and its purchase should be enthusiastically endorsed by Charleston County Council in today’s meeting.