Pryor cites Bulow miscommunication

One day after Charleston County Council approved -- and caught flak for -- a $4.1 million deal to buy a 400-acre Bulow Hunt Club tract, top county officials met privately in a conference room to try to clear the air.

Louise Maybank, chairwoman of the county's Greenbelt Advisory Board, voiced concern Tuesday about the speed with which the West Ashley land deal was done.

She spoke to council members minutes after they voted, urging them to await the board's recommendation next time "at least to protect the integrity of the process."

The board, which advises council on greenbelt projects, had considered the Bulow tract last week but delayed its recommendation to receive more information from the county's Park and Recreation Commission, a partner in the deal.

Maybank and board Vice Chairman Chuck Bennett met Wednesday with Council Chairman Teddie Pryor and Councilman Henry Darby.

Pryor, who said Tuesday there were "flaws on both sides" of the deal, said Wednesday there was some miscommunication -- or a lack of communication -- about the timeline for the deal.

"I addressed some concerns they had about the process," Pryor said, adding that the council's Friday Finance Committee meeting and its Tuesday regular meeting were moved up to accommodate council members who had vacation plans for later in the month.

Pryor said the issue that drove the change in dates wasn't the Bulow sale, but the decision to begin negotiating with Deputy Administrator Kurt Taylor for the county administrator's post that is becoming vacant Jan. 31.

Pryor also said the seller, Bill Thomas, was eager to get the deal closed -- and so was the county because of concerns that Thomas might receive a better offer.

Maybank declined comment after her Wednesday meeting with Pryor.

Thomas had worked for several months with Edwin Cooper,a commercial real estate broker who had worked with Thomas years ago when he placed a conservation easement with Ducks Unlimited.

Cooper urged Thomas to talk with the county after a developer approached Thomas about building workforce housing on the site.

Former Councilman Paul Thurmond worked with Thomas and his lawyer Randy Cooper -- no relation -- on the deal, and some said that helped it speed through.

Pryor denied that Wednesday. "That didn't have anything to do with it," Pryor said. "Mr. Thurmond was just one of the lawyers for this particular seller."

Susan Milliken of James Island saw the news of the sale Wednesday and said she shares Maybank's concerns, particularly after Milliken saw pictures online of an elaborate residence, now a rental property that is part of the deal.

The county's Park and Recreation Commission bought that building for about $820,000 in a separate transaction, largely because the Greenbelt Bank Board can't buy buildings, only land. The commission plans to rent it out for weddings and other events.

The commission, which also will take ownership of the 400 newly acquired acres, already had acquired 1,600 adjoining acres in a previous deal.

"As taxpayers, we'd simply appreciate notice to citizens and a fair chance to understand the complex issues that are part of purchases involving such a large amount of funds," Milliken wrote to council members. "My family could never dream of renting this house or ever stepping foot into it. We are having a 'stay-cation' this year."

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.