In 200 years, no matter what Johns Island will have become, at least 314 acres of farmland and waterfront property will remain undeveloped.
Charleston County Council can keep the land in its current state, but some members are resisting that idea.
The Charleston County Greenbelt Board, with support from the Lowcountry Open Land Trust and the Johns Island Conservancy, asked council to spend $800,000 of Greenbelt money to purchase an easement on the acreage, which is owned by Thomas Legare. Mr. Legare’s family has farmed it for generations, and they also sponsor public functions to allow people to experience rural Johns Island.
County Council’s Finance Committee refused the easement-purchase request by a vote of 5-2 last week, but there is still a way to reconsider — if a member of the prevailing side requests council revisit the issue.
Councilman Joe Qualey is hoping that can happen. Both he and council member Colleen Condon were absent for the committee discussion. Further, Mr. Qualey believes that what concerned some members of council could be addressed to their satisfaction if the Greenbelt Board were given a chance to make its case.
Protecting such a large piece of rural property is an opportunity worthy of the extra effort.
One point of contention is the question of how much access the public would have to the property.
Councilman Henry Darby says public access is a must, and apparently the public events currently offered (such as a pumpkin patch, camp and battle re-enactments) aren’t enough to satisfy him.
Who’s to say the proposal can’t be tweaked?
The landowner, a conservationist, clearly wants this deal to work.
And Elizabeth Hagood, director of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, has offered to help address concerns about what she thinks is a project of “high quality and integrity.”
It would be a great loss for the community and the environment should the easement fall through. It would protect the property from development, leaving it in perpetuity a place of refuge for native wildlife and plant life. And it would forever illustrate the rural nature of Johns Island.
The island’s farms — large and small, black-owned and white-owned — fed the area for generations. It is a key part of the heritage of the Lowcountry.
The council members who voted against the Greenbelt proposal, and who could thereby ask for the issue to be revisited, are Vic Rawl, Anna Johnson, Elliott Summey, Teddie Pryor and Henry Darby.
Dickie Schweers and Herb Sass supported the easement request. Mr. Qualey and Ms. Condon say they would have backed it had they been able to attend the meeting.
Mr. Qualey told council that Kiawah and Seabrook Island residents in his district, support the easement, but didn’t have a voice in the discussion because he was out of town for a funeral. “An issue of such importance should be heard by all council,” he said. “Every member should have a chance to discuss it.”
And council members interested in making the best, fully informed decisions for their community — with input from constituents — should ask that the Legare farm easement be put back on the Finance Committee’s agenda.