Conservationists may get another chance to preserve Legare Farms on Johns Island.
A key Charleston County Council committee last month voted against using $900,000 from Charleston County's rural Greenbelt program to place a conservation easement on the 314-acre property. But Council Vice Chairman Elliott Summey, who voted with the majority against approving the purchase, has asked that the matter be reconsidered.
Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said the Lowcounty Open Land Trust, the nonprofit group that filed the Legare Farms Greenbelt application, may submit a new application to the Greenbelt Bank Board, the group that initially reviews applications for the county. The new application then would be forwarded to County Council for a vote.
The possibility that County Council will reconsider preserving the property is a boon for conservationists who think the farm on the Stono River on the southern end of the island is a quintessential Johns Island property vulnerable to development.
But four of council's nine members have grown concerned about the county purchasing easements on private land that doesn't offer access to the public. They are Pryor, Henry Darby, Vic Rawl and Anna Johnson.
Under a conservation easement, the property owner agrees to place restrictions on the land so it never can be developed. In most cases, that drives down the price for which the owner could sell the property.
Summey said he voted against the Legare Farms plan because he thought the application didn't include an appropriate appraisal. "It was more of an opinion letter," he said. "And I think the cost was a little high."
But, he said, "if they can justify the cost to me, I'll vote for it. I think we can get there."
Council's Finance Committee originally voted 5-2 against the purchase. Summey and the four members who hold concerns about the lack of public access voted against the plan. Council members Joe Qualey and Colleen Condon were unable to attend the meeting. But both subsequently said they likely could support the purchase.
So it's possible that if council revisited the matter, it would draw five of the nine council members' votes, enough to pass.
Cathy Ruff, the county's Greenbelt program director, said the next round of application are due Dec. 31, and will be reviewed at the board's Feb. 6 meeting.
She also said all Greenbelt applications are submitted with only a preliminary appraisal. They require a full appraisal at the time officials sign off on the deal. If the cost estimates between the preliminary and full appraisals were wildly different, she said, the applicant would have to file a new application.
Elizabeth Hagood, the Lowcountry Open Land Trust's executive director, said her group definitely will file a new application. She told County Council members after they voted against the plan that she would address any concerns they had. If they want her to file a new application, she said, she will do it.
Councilman Dickie Schweers, who voted in favor of the easement, has questioned whether some council members voted against the plan because they had personal problems with Thomas Legare, who owns the property with his two sisters.
Legare is a vocal opponent of the controversial completion of Interstate 526 across James and Johns islands, and supports Johns Island remaining largely rural. He also ran against Johnson for Council's District 8 seat in 2010.
Legare said he's glad the easement is being reconsidered. And he hopes that politics don't play a role in the next application. He's taking a wait-and-see approach.
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.