Although opinions differ on how the completion of I-526 will impact the Lowcountry landscape, everyone seems to agree that Johns Island is a treasure that deserves protection for its unique sense of place. Many citizens have expressed their concerns that building the road will bring additional development to Johns Island that will forever affect its rural character.
In an effort to address these concerns, I propose that we utilize funds from the Greenbelt portion of the Charleston County Transportation Sales Tax to place conservation easements on properties located on Johns Island.
The county’s Rural Greenbelt Program currently has approximately $12 million remaining. To date, the program has successfully protected over 12,000 acres with conservation easements at an average cost per acre of $1,600. Based on this past performance, the remaining funds could protect 7,500 acres of land on Johns Island.
Conservation easements are a proven method for permanently protecting property by limiting real estate development and prohibiting industrial and commercial uses. While some may be concerned that restricting residential and commercial development will reduce the county’s tax base, consider this: Land protected with a conservation easement remains in private ownership; meaning the land will remain on the tax rolls thus providing tax revenue while requiring fewer services.
A community service study conducted by the American Farmland Trust in 2007 states that “studies conducted over the last 20 years show working lands generate more public revenues than they receive back in public services. Their impact on community coffers is similar to that of other commercial and industrial land uses.”
Additionally, conservation easements allow for uses such as recreation, agriculture and forestry.
Many families on Johns Island have owned and farmed their land for generations. Conservation easements would make it possible for them to own and work their land now and into future generations.
Johns Island is truly a special place with many critical issues. It is my belief we can make this a win-win situation for Johns Island. The completion of I-526 will address the island’s crippling traffic problems.
Placing conservation easements on farms and open land will forever protect its beloved rural character while keeping it in private ownership.
Member, Charleston County Council