Two things stand in the way of a 34-acre natural park surrounding the Angel Oak. Charleston County Council must agree to spend $2.5 million in Greenbelt funds. And the Lowcountry Open Land Trust must raise $400,000.
LOLT's task might seem more difficult. It has already gone to the public for money to purchase half of the land near the Angel Oak on Johns Island, and $400,000 is hardly pocket change.
By contrast, the county's Greenbelt Bank has the necessary $2.5 million on hand, the Greenbelt Bank Board supports spending it to expand the park.
However, some council members have told The Post and Courier that they are not yet sold on the project.
That's a shame.
Councilman Joe Qualey said he will not likely back the allocation. He notes that the land's value jumped because the city of Charleston ill-advisedly zoned it for intense development. Therefore, he thinks the city should "pay the lion's share."
Council Chairman Teddie Pryor also wants more money from the city to go toward the $3.3 million pricetag. In July the county dedicated $2.4 million of Greenbelt funds toward an adjacent 17-acre parcel, a move Mr. Pryor calls "more than generous."
He says the project is wonderful, but he believes other entities need to increase their contributions to the cause.
And Councilman Henry Darby is skittish because he isn't convinced that the bank board has been fair in its allocation of Greenbelt funds, but he offered no specifics.
The fact is, the people of Charleston County voted for a half-penny sales tax increase in part to preserve green space. This purchase would do just that.
Some council members have expressed discomfort with the purchase of easements on green space as opposed to the outright purchase of property. The Angel Oak request is an outright purchase.
Council members have also wanted more public access on property protected with Greenbelt funds.
The purpose of the Angel Oak acquisition is to protect the majestic tree and give the public a way to enjoy it and learn about it with trails and educational features.
In other words, the Angel Oak request is everything those county councilmen have asked for, and then some.
The first half of the property was purchased with money from the county, the city of Charleston and the S.C. Conservation Bank. But it also was made possible because of donations from 10,000 people, most of them local, who donated thousands of dollars or just their weekly allowance of 75 cents.
The Angel Oak is a landmark of wide-ranging importance. Black families and groups have gathered and picnicked under the spreading limbs for generations. So have white families.
Teachers at Haut Gap Middle School, which is just across the road from the tree, have incorporated visits to the tree with their instruction.
Sure, it would have been better if the property had never been zoned for dense development. It could have been purchased more inexpensively.
But that can't be helped at this point. And the tree needs the help of the public.
Environmentalists warn that the tree's health would be jeopardized if too-dense development were to occur near it. And if the purchase doesn't go through, the developer will be able to build a number of apartment buildings and some commercial buildings on it.
The air pollution and groundwater runoff could harm the tree. And the noise would diminish the peaceful experience of people visiting the tree.
The property looks over a farm, which is under a conservation easement. Green space is clearly important to the people who live on or visit Johns Island and value its rural history.
Land Trust officials are optimistic that they can raise the $400,000 they have committed.
County Council should listen to the people who have demonstrated their enthusiasm for the Angel Oak by making contributions; to the environmentalists who see the long-term advantages of making the purchase; and to the Greenbelt Bank Board that has the job of assessing opportunities like this.
County Council should approve the $2.5 million and make Angel Oak the extraordinary place it deserves to be.
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