MOUNT PLEASANT — With good intentions, or racial insensitivity, depending on whom you ask, the town gave away a piece of property last year that had cost taxpayers $193,500.
The overgrown half-acre along Mathis Ferry Road at 5th Avenue, a gateway to Remley's Point and the historic Scanlonville community founded the 1860s by freedman John Scanlon, quickly became the source of an acrimonious dispute between two nonprofit groups that remains unresolved.
In March 2017 the Town Council voted unanimously to give the property to the East Cooper Land Trust with plans to turn the site into a small, privately funded memorial park honoring the late Kenny Seamon.
The decision to take a property that's home to the historic marker explaining the history of Scanlonville and turn it into "Kenny Park" honoring a white architect, prompted a backlash in the community.
“At first, they yelled at us for two hours, when we went in to talk to them," said Catherine Main, executive director of the land trust. “We recognize that maybe it was hurtful to them, that it was a white man they were memorializing at this park, so we stepped away."
Plans to memorialize Seamon quickly shifted to northern Mount Pleasant and a bike and pedestrian trail near Oakland Plantation now known as the "Kenny Mile." The formerly town-owned land on Mathis Ferry Road was in a tug of war between the land trust and the Scanlonville community group, the nonprofit East Cooper Civic Club.
“We’d like to have the land back under community ownership," said East Cooper Civic Club President Edward Lee. “We wanted to make it into a park honoring Mr. Scanlon."
The town mostly left it to the two nonprofit groups to sort out and that did not go well. More than 15 months after the Town Council voted to give away the land, the organizations were hardly on speaking terms. Councilman Tom O'Rourke, who was elected after that vote, briefly stepped in to try to find common ground.
“I think what you’ve got right now is a trust breakdown and it’s going to be hard to repair," he said after his shuttle diplomacy effort in May did not produce an agreement.
Some say the sticking point has been a $5,000 fee the East Cooper Land Trust insisted upon in exchange for putting the property under a conservation easement and turning it over to the civic club.
“It’s about equality, right?" said John Wright, president of the African-American Historical Settlement Commission, who said he's been involved in negotiations from the start. "How could the town give away the land and now the land trust is demanding $5,000 from the community?"
Main also said it's about the money, which she said the trust must set aside as part of its responsibility to monitor the conservation easement, which restricts the use of a property forever.
“To me, the impasse is the $5,000 and their unwillingness to work with us on raising the money," she said. "We protect land and in order to protect land we have to receive a minimal amount of funds for it."
But Lee said the fee, while objectionable, isn't the point. Rather, it's the idea that the Land Trust would monitor the use of the property, inspecting it every year.
“We don’t see where we need someone to oversee us," said Lee. “That doesn’t go over well in a black community.”
So, Mount Pleasant no longer owns the half-acre at Mathis Ferry Road and 5th Avenue, the plan for a privately funded park there has vanished and the fight over control of the land continues.
Both the East Cooper Civic Club and the East Cooper Land Trust want to see the property remain undeveloped and used as a park.
“Ideally, we would like to have no payment and no easement," Lee said. “On their side, I think they would like a payment and an easement."
Main said the trust considered just giving the property back to the town but she said the offer was rebuffed.
“We’ve decided that the very best thing to do for now is nothing," said Bill Eubanks, a land trust board member who works at SeamonWhiteside. "It’s green space, it’s open space, it’s full of birds and squirrels."
After The Post and Courier started asking questions, Main and Lee decided to meet and try once again to find common ground.