Legare Farm is one of the prettiest places in the Lowcountry.
Every year, thousands of locals visit the working Johns Island farm to pick out a pumpkin, go through the corn maze or take in a Civil War battle reenactment.
It’s a perfect place to step back in time. And there aren’t enough of those anymore.
Most people would probably like to see Legare Farm stay just as it is for future generations. Charleston County Council had a chance to ensure just that, but they said no.
For various reasons — some principled, some political — the council voted against spending $900,000 in Greenbelt money to buy a conservation easement that would keep the farm out of the hands of developers forever.
Councilman Henry Darby doesn’t like easements without public access, and others just don’t like one of the farm’s owners — unofficial Johns Island mayor Thomas Legare.
It might have something to do with Legare’s stance against bringing Interstate 526 to the island, or his fight against anything that might endanger Johns Island’s rural character.
Funny thing is, the council says it opposes massive development on Johns Island, but this vote paves the way for it.
A fading tradition
Helen Legare-Floyd loves her farm, make no mistake.
It has been in her family for generations, and she now owns it equally with her sister, Linda Legare-Berry, and their brother, Thomas.
They work hard, raising cattle, growing vegetables and keeping the family tradition alive. But farming is not what it used to be, and the Legares have made no secret of how hard it is to make a dollar in small-scale agriculture.
All those public events, all those school field trips, are not only meant to share the farm with the community but also keep it running. It’s not gotten any easier.
A few years back, the Legares had to take out a mortgage to pay for their mother’s health care, and the plan to pay it back hasn’t worked out. The bank is about to foreclose.
So the Legares either sell part of the 314-acre farm or let the bank take it.
The conservation easement was a good answer. But the council said no.
“If we have to sell it and walk away, that’s what we do,” Helen says.
That would break her heart. But at this point, there aren’t many options. One developer wants to take the waterfront farm and build a marina, golf course and 400 homes.
That would solve a lot of problems for the family — and create a lot for the county.
But you couldn’t blame the Legares. Most folks would take the big money and run. The Legares, however, were willing to sell their easy fortune for pennies on the dollar.
“We hoped that once we got an easement some of our neighbors would do the same, and we would save a bigger chunk of Johns Island,” Helen says.
But the council said no.
Since the Greenbelt project started in 2006, the county has bought 81 properties and conservation easements on 50 others.
Most of those easements are on private property with no provision for public access.
What’s the big deal? The point of the Greenbelt project is to save land from development, not add 40,000 acres to the county parks system.
Legare Farm already provides more public access than almost any other private land in the county. So what if you pay a few bucks to get in to the Battle of Charleston? We own James Island County Park, but there’s still an admission fee.
Bottom line, this situation is exactly the sort of problem the Greenbelt program was established to remedy. It was meant to keep families from selling when they had no other choice.
But the council said no.
There is some talk that the council may reconsider, if they can get the easement for less money. But county officials say the easement is worth three times as much as the Legares have agreed to take, and a fraction for what they could get for the land on the open market.
Even for folks who love the farm as much as the Legares, it just wouldn’t make sense.
So as sad as it is, if the council doesn’t reconsider, the Legares may have to sell. No more corn mazes, no more mud runs, no more pumpkin patch. Another Lowcountry tradition gone with the wind.
The Legares don’t want to do it. It might be best for them, but it wouldn’t be best for the county. The Legares see that.
Why doesn’t County Council?
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org