If you go:
What: Charleston County Council’s vote on using $2.4 million in rural Greenbelt money for land adjacent to the Angel Oak
When: Tuesday; 6:30 p.m. public comment session and 7 p.m. meeting
Where: Second floor of the Lonnie Hamilton, III Public Services Building, 4045 Bridge View Drive, North Charleston
The park around the historic Angel Oak tree is poised to grow by 17 acres.
Charleston County’s Greenbelt Bank Board on Thursday approved contributing $2.4 million toward the purchase of the property, which sits adjacent to the park surrounding the massive live oak on Johns Island.
And County Council’s Finance Committee approved the expense with a unanimous vote and two conditions — the nonprofit Carolina Homeless Veterans must have access to five acres for farming, and the park must be owned and run by the county’s Park & Recreation Commission.
If the full council approves the plan at its Tuesday meeting, the county would contribute the money from its rural Greenbelt program, which comes from the half-cent sales tax, to the Lowcountry Open Land Trust.
The nonprofit conservation group then would purchase the $3.6 million property. Group leaders said they will launch an aggressive fundraising campaign to raise the final $1.2 million to complete the purchase. The trust has a contract on the property which requires that it be purchased by Sept. 30.
Elizabeth Hagood, executive director of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, said the property is a stunning piece of land, running between Bohicket Road and the dirt road leading to the Angel Oak. There are at least a half-dozen live oaks on the property, and 2 acres of beautiful freshwater wetlands, she said. “It’s a wetland oasis you didn’t know was there.”
Hagood said after the Finance Committee meeting that she was pleased that the committee approved the property, but she is concerned about the requirement that the Park & Recreation Commission ultimately own the land.
Her group had hoped to raise a portion of the $1.2 million from the State Conservation Bank, which would not contribute money to a park that was owned by a county. It would, however, contribute money to a park owned by a city or a nonprofit organization, and the Park & Recreation Commission could operate and manage the park, Hagood said.
The land is available because the city of Charleston approved it for development several years ago, but before shovels hit the dirt it fell into foreclosure.
The steps forward are a boon for conservationists and a delight for Samantha Siegel and thousands of supporters of her group, Save the Angel Oak.
Siegel and other members of her group circulated a petition to protect the tree and the land around it, which garnered more than 11,000 signatures. She said she has been working for five years to curtail development near the tree. “For the past five years I’ve had no social life,” she said, “but that’s OK.”
Her group, she said, totally supports the Lowcountry Open Land Trust’s plan to purchase and preserve the 17 acres. “It is the absolute best solution to save the Angel Oak and preserve the rural character of Johns Island.”
Hagood said the property is part of a 34-acre parcel that was poised to be developed. But when the economy soured, the plan fell apart and the property fell into foreclosure.
Garrett Budds, the trust’s stewardship manager, said the other 17 acres of the parcel also are under contract, but he didn’t have any information about what is planned for that tract.
Hagood said the property’s $3.6 million price tag is high because it was set to become a planned-unit development, with 356 multi-family homes. When land has the potential to be developed, it is more expensive, she said. But if the trust buys it, the group would make sure the land is protected.
Budds said if the land deal goes through, the trust would turn over operations to a public group, such as the city of Charleston, Charleston County or the county’s Park & Recreation Commission.
Hagood said she thinks that protecting the property likely will spur other nearby land-preservation efforts.
And the land purchase is about more than preservation, she said. The Angel Oak and the area around it has been a treasured place for diverse groups of Lowcountry residents for many years. “What’s exciting about this project is that it’s more than a conservation project,” she said. “It protects the culture of the island,”
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.