The Angel Oak needs space. Lots of it. Its limbs are each the size of large trees - the longest 89 feet in length and more than 11 feet in circumference.
And while the City of Charleston park provides room for the limbs to reach up and bend over until they skim the ground, trees need natural space beyond their immediate area.
About 10,000 people, local and not, contributed money to help the Lowcountry Open Land Trust (LOLT) purchase 17 acres adjacent to the park - to ensure it will never be developed. Their support was key to securing funding from Charleston County's Greenbelt program ($2.4 million), the City of Charleston ($250,000) and the state Conservation Bank ($890,000).
But the Angel Oak could use more breathing room. Seventeen more adjacent acres are on the way to being developed into multiple apartment buildings with 250 units and some commercial space. LOLT would like to purchase that acreage also, and that means continuing fund-raising efforts. It means an excellent opportunity for the Lowcountry to provide cultural inspiration, education and awe-inspiring beauty for generations to come.
Absent the Angel Oak, the Lowcountry would have to wait hundreds of years for another such tree.
The LOLT has $400,000 in donations designated for the second 17-acre tract. Local officials are trying to negotiate with the would-be developer in Raleigh to sell the property at a price within reach so they can begin fund-raising for the balance. Mayor Joe Riley has said there is a "wide chasm" between the LOLT's price and the developer's.
Unfortunately, the value of the property escalated when it was rezoned and designated as a "gathering place" by the city 12 years ago.
It seems most agree now that the Angel Oak area is better preserved in its natural state - not in an area teeming with apartment rentals. The lights, noise, runoff and congestion that come with an apartment complex aren't in the best interest of the tree.
The city should use the Angel Oak zoning as a starting point to re-examine the value of so-called "gathering places." The proposed development near the Angel Oak isn't the only site that has drawn criticism for providing too much density for the site. So has the "gathering place" proposed for an already congested stretch of Maybank Highway near Fleming Road on James Island.
"Gathering places" feature high-density residential use within easy access to commercial areas.
The John's Island property is close to a grocery store and a few fast-food restaurants, but its value as a nature preserve, an educational park and a cultural and historic landmark is too significant to sacrifice.
Plans for the site include trails and educational markers so the public, already enchanted by the Angel Oak, can enhance its appreciation of the magnificent specimen. That experience would be diminished by a major apartment complex on an adjacent tract. And it wouldn't be good for the tree, either.
Now is the time to preserve the remaining 17 acres of land and to learn from zoning mistakes that put the tree in jeopardy.