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City of Charleston to talk about Low Line project as August deadline nears to buy land

Lowcountry Low Line

An artist's rendering shows the vision for the railroad right of way in Charleston's upper peninsula — a project known as the Lowcountry Low Line. Provided

Those hoping to create the Lowcountry Low Line have fewer than four months to act before their option to buy the land expires.

Any deal is at least weeks away.

As planned, the Low Line would be a linear park extending up Charleston's peninsula on an old railroad right of way, from Marion Square to beyond Mount Pleasant Street. Supporters see it as Charleston's equivalent to New York's popular High Line.

But the project still face hurdles.

Charleston City Council is scheduled to get a closed-door legal briefing Tuesday on where things stand, but few expect a vote after that. City Attorney Francis Cantwell said Friday she mainly wants to bring all council members up to speed.

"It’s very complicated," she said of the project. "It’s like a 'whack a mole.' You hit one mole, and another one pops up on the other side."

Ginny Deerin, director of the nonprofit Friends of the Lowcountry Low Line, said the group remains optimistic that it and city will agree on a plan. She doesn't expect that will happen next week.

"We're in the final stages of trying to nail down the details of this memorandum of understanding," she said. "There are still some issues being worked out."

A big issue is money, specifically the approximately $17 million to $20 million needed to buy the right of way from Norfolk Southern. The Friends' have a sales contract with the railroad that expires in August.

Part of the purchase expense could be offset by selling larger out parcels, particularly two near Line Street.

Mayor John Tecklenburg, who supports the project, has said the memorandum would detail who would develop the park, own it and maintain it.

Cantwell said the city is aware of the August deadline on the Friends' contract with Norfolk Southern. "We do know time is of the essence. That is on everyone’s mind,” she said. "I think things have to happen fast. We’re just running out of time.”

A 2016 study was done by HRA Advisors Inc., a New York-based consulting firm, found the project would lead to a financial boon for the city, both in terms of new jobs and increased development nearby.

The study also estimated it would cost between $18 million and $25 million to build — or about $2.4 million per acre. It would cost another $1.4 million to $3.1 million to operate and maintain.

Meanwhile, the Friends has updated its logo and webpage and will host a litter pick-up from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday. The event that will include food and drinks and will end with a kid-friendly party. The event will begin where Simons Street dead-ends into the railroad tracks. 

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