Over the last 10 years much has been written about DeReef Park and the Smith-Morris development plans, but key information about how this park came into existence and was later sold has been neglected.
DeReef Park is the last public green space in the neighborhoods of Cannonborough-Elliotborough and Radcliffeborough. For the last 20 years, it has provided playground space for neighborhood children, dog walkers, the youth of Shiloh AME Church and over 200 participants of the Cannon Street YMCA.
The park property, known as Radcliffeborough Acquisition, was originally purchased by the city of Charleston in 1981 with a grant from the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). A subsequent LWCF grant in 1991 provided for the development of a gazebo, playground, walkways, landscaping and roadways. Two years later, Charleston City Council issued a resolution naming it DeReef Park.
LWCF is a federal grant program managed through the National Park Service (NPS) and the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCDRT).
By accepting the grant money from LWCF, the city is required to maintain this property, replace facilities as needed, have an official LWCF sign posted in the park and, most importantly, restrict the use of the property to public outdoor recreation in perpetuity.
There is an exception to this rule. The covenants can be converted to another parcel of property if it is of equal fair market value, usefulness and location. The replacement parcel must be part of a viable recreation area. All practical alternatives to the conversion must be evaluated.
The city entered into a memorandum of understanding with Civitas, LLC in 2003 for the redevelopment of the area, including improvement to park properties.
According to planned unit development guidelines, the existing park was to be separated from one large tract to two small spaces on either side of Morris Street.
Also, the new park plans weren’t the same acreage of the existing park, which put the city at risk for being out of compliance with LWCF.
In late 2008 the city finalized a year-long process to identify a “replacement park” and to document why this property met the legal requirements for a conversion.
The replacement property identified by the city and approved by SCPRT and the NPS is a small portion of property known as Concord Park. This property now under conservation easement is a nondescript, small strip of land running parallel to Calhoun Street between Concord and Washington streets across from Liberty Square. This piece of land is still smaller than DeReef Park but appraised at a higher value.
As of June 2012 there were no signs to identify a park despite the requirement that a replacement park be built within two years. Based on an inquiry from the Department of Interior the space is now marked with white paint and a posted LWCF sign.
Meanwhile in DeReef Park, there is no playground equipment and no indication of when a new and improved park will be built. The property is marked with No Trespassing signs.
The city will build a beautiful waterfront park on Concord Street, but the families, students and retired residents of Cannonborough-Elliotborough and Radcliffeborough neighborhoods also deserve a park near their homes.
Research shows parks can improve the health and wellness of residents, as well as provide economic benefits by increasing the value of residential properties.
Is the replacement park down on Concord Street equivalent in usefulness and location?
Have all practical alternatives been reviewed by city leaders?