SUMMERVILLE -- The offer for Pine Trace has just been sweetened, and Dorchester County officials are more confident about buying the massive woodlands for a signature regional park in the lower county.
After meeting with state Budget and Control Board staff to prepare for a May 2 board meeting, the county improved its $2.75 million bid to $3 million, cash on the barrel; the original bid would have had deferred part of the payment. The 330-acre property outside Summerville is owned by the state, bought years ago as part of the Coastal Rehabilitation Center on Miles Jamison Road.
The board, which is the state's property managing body, is composed of the governor and four legislators. The new offer is more in line with the state's recent reappraisals of the property, which came in at $3.1 million and $3.3 million, said County Administrator Jason Ward.
County Councilman Jay Byars said the county was told that the original offer "might not fly," so they didn't want to take a chance. "They feel this (offer) is going to get a positive response," he said. "I think the state really wants to make this work."
A $3 million purchase would be financed by a bond paid for with cable franchise fees, which had been used to pay for new recreation facilities before voters passed a $10 million recreation bond last fall. Council members plan to look for grants and private partnerships to help pay to build and run the park.
"There's no tax increase. That's the big thing," said Councilman George Bailey, echoing Byars and other council members.
Pine Trace is a woods and wetlands tract surrounded by rings on rings of housing subdivisions in the booming Oakbrook community. It's one the last open expanses in the densely populated area around Summerville, where residents have clamored for more open space and recreation facilities.
Even though the county is reeling from revenue shortfalls, council members consider the purchase a one-shot opportunity. In 2007, at the height of the building boom, a developer contracted to pay $7.6 million for it, planning to build a 900-home subdivision. But the developer left the state in the lurch by failing to pay after the boom collapsed.
Pine Trace would become a complex of passive park trails, ballfields and recreation facilities, along with a new school. Connected to an existing trail along Eagle Creek, it would be a huge piece of the recreation and open space master plan, which calls for large regional parks at either end of the county to serve as anchors for smaller parks and conserved areas.
"There's a lot of great space to do a lot of great things with. We're trying to make it work," Byars said.