County to preserve chunk of Fairfield Plantation

Nearly 500 acres of Fairfield Plantation in the Francis Marion National Forest will remain undeveloped after Charleston County Council on Tuesday purchased a conservation easement under the rural Greenbelt Program.

The easement, which the county bought for about $323,000, does not provide public access to the property, said Cathy Ruff, director of the county’s Greenbelt Program. But it does include a mile-long stretch on U.S. Highway 17 in McClellanville, which now will remain undeveloped.

The Charleston County Greenbelt Program was established to preserve 40,000 acres of green space in both urban and rural areas. It’s paid for with money from the half-cent sales tax, which county voters approved in 2004.

County Council also approved the purchase of 0.14 acres on O’Hear Avenue near Noisette Creek in North Charleston under the urban Greenbelt Program. The property is adjacent to other greenbelt properties, and will provide residents access to Noisette Creek and the marsh.

The rural Greenbelt Program now has about $13 million left from its original $65.3 million.

Ruff said the easement on Fairfield Plantation would cost only $637 per acre, which is much less than buying the land outright.

But County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor, one of two council members who voted against the purchase, said he doesn’t like the county spending tax dollars on property to which the public won’t have access.

He previously voted for such arrangements, he said. But he’s had a change of heart. “I’m not going to do it anymore,” he said.

Councilwoman Anna Johnson also voted against the purchase.

Ruff said the county couldn’t afford to purchase all the land it wants to preserve, so easements are an important tool in saving green space, even if the public doesn’t have access to the land.

And there are public benefits even if there isn’t public access, she said. For instance, by not developing nearly 500 acres of Fairfield Plantation, water and air quality will be improved and the marsh will be protected.

Ruff said the small parcel the county will purchase in the city of North Charleston will cost about $29,000.

The city of North Charleston was allocated about $7.9 million in urban greenbelt money. It has about $2.5 million left.

The city of Charleston was allocated about $9.9 million in urban greenbelt funds and Mount Pleasant was allocated about $4.9 million. Both already have spent their portion of the money.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.