Conservationists scored a major victory in their battle to protect historic Angel Oak when Charleston County Council Finance Committee on Thursday approved $2.5 million for the effort.
"This has been a difficult decision. I think we all realize how important this project is," said Council Chairman Teddie Pryor.
The county appropriation is by far the biggest contribution to a Lowcountry Open Land Trust campaign to raise $3.3 million to purchase 18.7 acres adjacent to Angel Oak Park where the internationally-recognized tree is located.
"County Council did a great thing. We are very excited about this. It's going to pay off tremendously," said Elizabeth Hagood, who is Land Trust executive director.
The trust will own the property, and Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission will manage it, officials said.
"My kids and their kids will be able to enjoy that tree. And that's why I'm voting for it," said Councilman Elliott Summey.
The city of Charleston has agreed to contribute $400,000 to the effort.
The trust is working to raise another $400,000 by March 14. If that does not happen, a developer has said it will proceed with a plan to build an apartment community.
Conservationists want the land around the historic tree 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 is considered a Lowcountry icon.
"The Angel Oak property is a legacy for Johns Island. This is the right thing to do," said Council member Anna Johnson.
The park expansion will provide opportunity for students to learn the heritage and culture of the island, she said.
The Finance Committee also approved $1.4 million to purchase 11 acres on Seafood Lane in Awendaw for the Ten- Mile Neighborhood Association's Glover Park project. And it authorized $591,500 to buy 11 acres on U.S. 17 in Ravenel adjacent to Caw Caw County Park for a community center and greenspace/recreational activities.
The appropriations are from the county Greenbelt fund, which is funded by the half-cent sales tax. The fund is for the preservation of green space through the purchase of land and conservation easements.
The Finance Committee vote for Angel Oak was unanimous.
Councilman Joe Qualey opposed the Ten-Mile project. Qualey and Councilman Dickie Schweers voted against funding for the Ravenel project. Councilman Herb Sass abstained from that vote.
Every member of Council serves on the Finance Committee. The projects approved Thursday night are scheduled to be on the Council agenda for its meeting on Tuesday.
Council in July approved $2.4 million in Greenbelt funds to purchase a 17-acre parcel adjacent to the Angel Oak Park.
So far, the Greenbelt Program has allocated more than $80 million to protect over 19,000 acres of land in Charleston County.