St. Elmo "Speedy" Felkel knows the Angel Oak tree on Johns Island better than just about anyone, having owned it for 25 years.
On Monday, he tiptoed into the controversy swirling around the famous live oak and a large development called Angel Oak Village planned on adjacent land, at Maybank Highway and Bohicket Road.
Felkel said he has some questions about stormwater runoff from the proposed Angel Oak Village development, with its hundreds of new homes, but he thinks the threat facing the tree is Angel Oak Road.
The centuries-old tree has been growing steadily closer to the dirt road, which leads to the small city of Charleston park that contains the Angel Oak.
"That road has got to be moved, or you'll be condemning the tree to a slow death," said Felkel, 88, of Hanahan, who said the controversy surrounding the tree prompted him to weigh in on the issue.
"The tree can't move. We have to get things out of its way," he said. "It will be in the middle of the road in 30 years."
The city already has moved part of a barbed wire fence originally installed by Felkel, to accommodate the massive, spreading limbs of the Angel Oak. Most of the tree's branches extend south, toward the road.
While opponents of Angel Oak Village debate whether 500 feet is enough distance between the tree and the proposed development, cars from New York and Alabama drove within spitting distance of the tree's longest branches Monday as Felkel watched nearby.
Felkel bought the tree and about 2 acres of land around it in 1964, and turned it into the tourist attraction that it is today. He built the gift shop that's now operated by the city and fenced the property to deter vandalism and trespassing.
In 1991, the city bought the tree and surrounding property for $127,900 at a delinquent tax sale.
The heavy wood blocks and steel cables that Felkel had installed to support some of the tree's branches are still there today.
"The development's not going to hurt us at all, as long as the water (runoff) doesn't flow under this property," he said.
The developer, Angel Oak Village LLC, and opponents have taken opposite positions on water-related issues, with opponents dismissing a hydrology report commissioned at the city's insistence by the developer. City officials have said they are confident the tree is well protected.
The development plan will be discussed once again at a meeting Wednesday evening.
Robert DeMoura, leading the development team for CC&T Real Estate Services, said that part of the latest plan for Angel Oak Village would take cars off of Angel Oak Road by creating a different way to access the park.