The Lowcountry Open Land Trust has less than a month to raise $3.3 million to purchase and prevent development of the last piece of open property near the historic Angel Oak tree.
But some Charleston County Council members say they are reluctant to approve a requested $2.5 million contribution from the rural Greenbelt Program toward the purchase of the property.
County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said the county in July approved $2.4 million toward an adjacent 17-acre parcel. Now, the trust wants another $2.5 million for the second parcel.
Trust leaders said the city of Charleston already has agreed to contribute $400,000 toward the purchase, and the trust will raise the remaining $400,000.
"It's a wonderful project," Pryor said, but he thinks the other groups need to kick in a little more.
"I'm going to look at it," Pryor said, "but the county has been more than generous."
The county's Greenbelt Bank Board will consider the project at a meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday. If it approves the plan, County Council's Finance Committee will consider and likely vote on it on Feb. 20. The full council then would have to approve the plan on Feb. 25.
The county's Greenbelt Program uses money from the half-cent sales tax to preserve green space by purchasing land and conservation easements.
Rutledge Young Jr., president of the trust's board, said he and other trust employees negotiated feverishly for months to arrange a deal with the Raleigh-based Dominion Realty Partners, which has a contract to purchase the property.
Dominion had planned to build an apartment community on the land, which would include roads and many buildings comprising at least 250 rental units, as well as some commercial space on Maybank Highway.
Young said he thinks the trust negotiated well. It agreed to pay $3.3 million for the 18.7-acre property, he said, $256,000 less than the group paid for the adjacent 17-acre parcel.
The trust and the developer signed an agreement last week, Young said. Under the agreement, the trust has until March 1 to raise the money. If it fails to do that, the developer has the option of selling the property to someone else.
Elizabeth Hagood, the trust's executive director, said she remains positive about the deal going through. "I'm optimistic because we had such strong support in the first round," she said. "It's a high-visibility project and a public-access project."
Conservationists have said they want the land around the historic tree on Johns Island protected from intense development to maintain the health of the massive live oak, which is believed to be at least several centuries old. It has become a Lowcountry icon.
Samantha Siegel, founder of the grassroots group Save the Angel Oak, said she was thrilled about the possibility of the second parcel of land being purchased. If that happens, she said, all the land around the tree will be preserved. "It would be the happy ending we've been waiting for," she said.
County Councilman Joe Qualey said he's not inclined to support the $2.5 million contribution.
The city of Charleston zoned the property for more intense development, he said, which drove up the cost. "I think the city should pay the lion's share of this request because the whole problem comes from improper zoning."
Pryor said he will ask the city to rezone the property for agricultural uses, which would bring down the cost.
City officials recently threw a wrench into the gears of the county's plan for a property swap on Morrison Drive by abruptly rezoning the county-owned land to prevent a potential student housing complex, Pryor said. "They changed Morrison Drive overnight," he said. "I'm sure they can do the same thing for the Angel Oak."
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has said it would be illegal for the city to make a zoning change on a property that is under contract. "If you rezone it, it's a taking," he said last summer. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Councilman Henry Darby said that while he supports the Greenbelt Program, he has concerns about how it is operating. He questioned whether the Greenbelt Bank Board was fair in its allocation of Greenbelt funds, but he didn't specify how it possibly has been unfair.
"There's a possibility I could support it," he said of the Angel Oak contribution, "and a possibility I could not. But I do consider myself a friend of the Greenbelt Bank Board."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.