Some Wespanee residents vow to fight park, dock on Ashem property

West Ashley homeowner Lee Hughes shares her concerns over the future of the Ashem site, located across the marsh from her property, and not just how it will affect her neighborhood but also the delicate marsh they share.

Paul Zoeller

Lee Hughes stands on her deck and looks across a small tidal creek at the wooded, 55-acre Ashem property in West Ashley, a view she thinks is in jeopardy because the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission plans to turn the historic and largely undeveloped site into a park.

Hughes and some of her neighbors in Wespanee Plantation plan to fight the opening of the public park. Commission Executive Director Tom O’Rourke said one will be opened there because West Ashley residents now have no access to a county park. He also said he and other staffers have worked hard to appease a handful of Wespanee residents who oppose the plan, but those residents aren’t open to compromise.

Hughes, who has lived in her house for eight years, said it’s true that she and some of her neighbors don’t want a park there. They don’t think restrictions on the property allow it, and they likely will take legal action to try to stop it.

She and her husband researched the restrictions on the Ashem property before they bought their home, she said. They wouldn’t have purchased a home across from a park.

The residents are concerned about the privacy of their creekfront homes being violated and noise from special events, which they say already is a problem.

The commission rents the site for special events, and when those events are held, “We can even hear people talking,” Hughes said.

It’s worse when the events include music and other amplified noise, she said.

She also is concerned about safety. The creek has water in it for only about three hours at a time during high tide, Hughes said. She’s afraid kayakers who attempt to paddle it, setting out from a new dock planned for the Ashem property, will get stuck in pluff mud in which people can sink almost waist-deep.

Mike Sabback, another Wespanee resident, said he is opposed to the commission building a new dock, which he thinks will be bigger than the one already there.

“We have a lot of older people here, and we like our quiet,” he said.

O’Rourke said the commission, which owns the site that sits adjacent to the state’s Charles Towne Landing, definitely will open it as a park. “We paid fair market value for the land” and are complying with all of the restrictions, he said.

Plans for the park, which now is open only for prearranged special events, are not yet solid, he said, but they include hiking trails and a new dock where people can fish and cast nets in the creek.

He and other commission staff members have tried to work with residents opposed to the park, whom he thinks are not representative of the entire Wespanee Plantation neighborhood.

For instance, he said, special events at the site are required to end at 10 p.m., an hour earlier than the city’s noise ordinance would allow. And they give a representative from the Wespanee homeowners’ group a staff contact phone number for each event. If there’s a problem, the representative can contact commission staffers, he said.

But their efforts don’t make a difference, he said. Some residents don’t want a park there. “It’s that simple.”

The property, which the commission purchased in 2011 for $5.1 million in half-cent sales tax money, is a former truck farm, horseback riding center and residence. The Lowcountry Open Land Trust held the property and sold it to the county, a deal that had the blessing of its former longtime owner, the late Emily Ravenel Farrow.

Farrow, an early trustee of the Historic Charleston Foundation, placed an easement on the property with the foundation stipulating that it not be subdivided more than three times, that its future development be limited and that the two early 20th-century homes built by her father be preserved.

Those restrictions mean opening a park there will take a bit longer, O’Rourke said. There are a few buildings on the property that are in disrepair and unsafe, he said, but they can’t be torn down.

The commission can’t allow people to wander freely and unsupervised in the park until the structures are safe, he said. But he thinks it will open with limited, supervised hours by the fall.

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