Charleston County Council committee to vote on contributing $2.5 million toward Angel Oak land purchase

People stop by the Angel Oak on Tuesday to look at the grand tree. Buy this photo

Conservationists likely will learn Thursday if the years they have spent working to prevent intense development near the Angel Oak tree on Johns Island will pay off.

If you go

What: Charleston County Council Finance Committee meeting, where Angel Oak land purchase will be discussed

When: 5 p.m. Thursday

Where: Second floor of the Lonnie Hamilton III Public Services Building, 4045 Bridge View Drive, North Charleston

That's when Charleston County Council's Finance Committee will hear a presentation, and then vote, on whether to approve $2.5 million from the rural Greenbelt Program to expand Angel Oak Park. If the plan passes, the full council will take a final vote on the matter Tuesday.

The Lowcountry Open Land Trust has until March 14 to raise $3.3 million to purchase 18.7 acres adjacent to Angel Oak Park. The city of Charleston has agreed to contribute $400,000 to the project, and trust leaders say they also will raise $400,000. If the trust fails to raise the money, a developer has said it will proceed with a plan to build an apartment community.

It remains unclear whether the majority of council members will approve the plan. Council members Elliott Summey, Dickie Schweers and Colleen Condon said they were inclined to support it.

Council Chairman Teddie Pryor and members Vic Rawl, Joe Qualey and Henry Darby said they have concerns about the plan. Anna Johnson and Herb Sass could not be reached for comment.

Concerns about the plan included whether the city of Charleston should contribute more toward the purchase, and whether other proposed Greenbelt projects also would be approved.

Charleston zoned the property to allow more intense development there, which in turn drove up the cost of the land. Some council members think that the city created the problem, so it should contribute more to the solution.

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 and may be as old as 1,400 years. It has become a Lowcountry icon.

The county's Greenbelt Program uses money from the half-cent sales tax to preserve green space by purchasing land and conservation easements.

Council in July approved $2.4 million in Greenbelt money to purchase another 17-acre parcel adjacent to the park.

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.

She and members of her group have contacted council members telling them how important the land is to the health of the tree. But she doesn't know if they will approve the plan. "I'm hopeful, but I'm not sure," she said.

Elizabeth Hagood, the trust's executive director, said she is confident that her group can raise the remaining $400,000 if County Council approves $2.5 million. Many individuals and groups are waiting to contribute until after they learn about council's decision, she said.

She has 7,000 solicitation letters ready to send if council approves the plan Thursday, she said. "There's a lot riding on it."



Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.

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