DeReef Park on Morris Street — or what is left of it — presents a complicated problem for which there is a straightforward solution, if the powers that be will just do it.
The solution would recognize the significance of Joseph and Richard Edward DeReef, men of color and community leaders in 19th century Charleston.
It would provide Elliotborough/Cannonborough residents a much-needed park even as developers pour more and more concrete in the area.
And it would allow the completion of an upscale condominium development that was begun more than a decade ago.
But for now, this is the problem:
The city of Charleston in 2003 deeded DeReef Park on Morris Street to developers with the understanding that they would maintain part of it as green space and augment it with more green space on the other side of the street.
But a subsequent owner discovered that a covenant on the property had not been honored. It required the city, which had used federal funds to purchase the park, to provide a different park of equal value in the neighborhood to mitigate the loss of DeReef Park should it be sold.
In response, the city said that Gadsdenborough Park, already planned near the S.C. Aquarium, would serve that purpose.
But neighbors, who by then were aware of the legal issues, correctly insisted that the substitute was inadequate. Gadsdenborough Park was a 1.2-mile walk from DeReef. Further, the covenant’s purpose was to compensate for lost park land, and Gadsdenborough was going to be a park anyway.
So residents of the historically black neighborhood sued the U.S. Park Service for not stopping the transfer from happening. The Park Service responded last summer that the deal must be reconsidered.
The developers got involved, asking the court to throw out the case and limit the reconsideration.
The federal court ruled against them on May 27 and gave the Park Service until July to get things straight. If Gadsdenborough Park isn’t acceptable, what site would be?
So here’s the win-win solution. The city should step up and find a more suitable place in the neighborhood for a park, and a plan that the Park Service could approve.
If the city needs prodding, the Park Service should insist that it happen.
And if the Park Service is slow off the mark, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, whose district includes DeReef Park, should encourage the federal agency to move matters along.
Charleston has been conscientious about honoring its black heritage, and it shouldn’t allow its mishandling of DeReef Park to diminish those efforts.
The neighborhood deserves the park that residents were promised. Ongoing development of the area says that the park is needed more than ever.