Angel Oak tree to get growing room?

File // Grace Beahm // The Post and Courier

The Angel Oak stands 65 feet high with a circumference of 25.5 feet. The tree, which is on Johns Island, is thought to be 500 years old.

The city of Charleston is poised to buy 6.5 acres surrounding its 2-acre Angel Oak Park on Johns Island, home to one of the South's largest live oaks.

The deal, to be financed with Charleston County's half-cent tax money, won approval Tuesday from City Council by a 7-6 vote.

The property is part of a much larger tract owned by Robert DeMoura, a developer who is pursuing plans to build apartments and shops nearby.

The $339,000 purchase price was down significantly from the $500,000 first presented to City Council a few months ago.

Mayor Joe Riley said the Angel Oak is in good shape, but tree experts have advised the city to move the parking lot farther from its root system.

The city actually will apply for about $518,000 from the county -- what's left of its urban greenbelt share -- and will use the other $179,000 for closing costs, moving the Angel Oak parking lot and other costs.

Riley said the purchase would preserve not only the oak but also the experience of visiting it. The city will control the vegetation that will screen the attraction from the new parking lot and from future development.

Councilman Aubry Alexander said he voted for it because it will leave no question as far as the future of the property surrounding Angel Oak Park on three sides. "It stays a park," he added.

DeMoura said Wednesday he was glad the outline of the deal won approval. "We did it because it was the right thing to do in terms of benefiting the Angel Oak," he said.

However, others questioned whether the city should have structured a deal to reduce the size and density of DeMoura's planned development.

Katie Zimmerman of the Coastal Conservation League was among those who spoke against the deal. She said Wednesday the league would have preferred it if greenbelt money was used to buy half of the approximately 30-acre development site -- not just the 6.5 acres around the Angel Oak.

"Essentially this is going to be taxpayer money that is going to be used to pay the applicant for something that is already required of him by the approved PUD (zoning)," she said. "You're paying this guy to do what he's already agreed to do."

But Riley said it would not have been possible to leverage the city's half-cent money to reduce the development's size. While there also was talk of putting a conservation easement on the 6.5 acres, Riley said such a move would not have allowed the city to move its parking lot further from the tree.

City Council approved the greenbelt money application Tuesday. If the county also signs off, then the purchase would return to City Council for a final vote.