A lot of people will spend at least part of this weekend at one of Charleston’s stunning public parks.
You can kayak from Northbridge Park, fish from Demetre Park or just take in one of the best views on the East Coast at Waterfront Park. There are worse ways to spend Labor Day.
Charleston’s amazing collection of public land is no accident. For the past 40 years, Mayor Joe Riley has made public access to the water and the Lowcountry’s unique environment one of his top priorities — no matter what.
In other words, Longborough residents, when the city reclaims your fishing pier, don’t take it personally.
This is just policy.
Right now, the city is in a legal dispute with the upscale peninsula neighborhood over ownership of Longborough Park, a little wooded peninsula in the Ashley River with trails and a fishing dock.
When the Beach Co. developed Longborough, the city thought it had an agreement that the park near Wagener Terrace would remain open to the public. But members of the Longborough Owners Association believe it is theirs, and recently won a court battle to keep it.
Don’t count on that ruling to hold up.
This is Charleston, where parks are public.
In the 1970s, a developer had a plan to build a huge complex of condos and retail stores on the Charleston Harbor along Concord Street just south of Fleet Landing and the State Ports Authority land.
It was going to be huge — and it was going to block public access to a wonderful harbor vista.
You see where this is going.
Riley fought and finagled for years, but he finally got that land and turned it into one of the city’s greatest treasures. Waterfront Park is, for a lot of people’s money, even better than The Battery. If you don’t believe it, try those swings sometime.
Since then, Riley and City Council have done the same thing time and again — with Demetre Park, with Northbridge Park. Now they are working on Higgins Pier in Maryville. All of these parks are great public spaces, and preserve the Lowcountry’s precious and pristine environment for everyone.
This is just what the city does, and that’s why it will make sure Longborough Park is open to all residents equally.
“It has to be public because this is a city and we don’t privatize public space,” Riley says. “There are some wonderful gated communities in our region, but Charleston is the opposite of that. It is the public realm and all citizens use it and share it.”
And the city is better for it.
The Longborough Owners Association took over the little park from the Beach Co. nearly a decade ago, believing it had clear title.
Charleston officials point out that when the developer made an application to build the dock, however, the city was listed as the owner. Somewhere down the line, things got a little muddy.
The Longborough residents have offered some public access, which is generous, but the mayor doesn’t believe any one group should have more access to park space than others. That’s just how it is.
So this is how it will likely go down: City Council will take the property through eminent domain — which it can do since this is for the public good — and folks from Wagener Terrace or anywhere else can use the pier and the trails anytime it is open.
It’s actually not a bad deal for anyone. Longborough residents won’t have to maintain the property or hold an insurance policy on it — the city will do all that — but it will be in their backyards. And the city police will patrol it and maintenance workers will keep it clean, which Riley says will increase property values.
Nothing will change, except that everyone will have access to the park. It’s unfortunate all this legal wrangling has to take place, but it’s for the public good. This is just one of those things that make Charleston great.
Besides, if complete public access is good enough for The Battery, it’s good enough for Longborough Park.
Brian Hicks’ biography of Joe Riley, “The Mayor,” will be published this fall. Reach him at email@example.com