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Greenbelts Advisory Board Meeting July 19

Getting closer
Warwick Jones, Editor

Action on "greenbelt" acquisitions or easements may still be some time away, but what is to be defined as suitable for financing by the half-cent sales tax is moving closer. Center stage of this week's meeting was the newly hired consultant Greenways Inc. Mr. Charles Flink, a principal of the firm spoke of the many terms used in describing greenspace. More importantly, he asked members of the Greenbelts Advisory Board (GAB) to broadly describe their hopes and expectations in their capacity of board members. These thoughts will be melded by the consultant into some coherent form for discussion at the next meeting. Sometime thereafter, though not necessarily immediately, the public will be engaged, preparatory to the final definition of "greenbelts" and the direction of spending.

Designed to educate GAB members
The semantic exercise on greenspace was probably designed to educate the members of GAB more than anything else. "Greenbelts" in a literal sense can be defined as a wide band of countryside bounding a city on which building and development is prohibited or restrained. (We wonder how much scope there is for the creation of something like this now in Charleston County.) There were other definitions as well but essentially, greenbelts were large chiunks of land. Down a rung was "open space" which was similar in a sense to greenbelts - large pockets of open land but without connections. And of course the connections if they exist were "greenways". (OK, this is a very potted and debat ble summary of the descriptions!) Mr. Flink then went on to talk about some cities and municipalities that had included urban parks in their greenbelt definitions and also such things as bike and walking trails. We also talked of the preservation of wetlands and estuaries. It may have been a bit of a surprise to Mr. Flink how important these were for many members of GAB.

Broad view as to "greenbelt" definitiion
The more interesting discussion related to members' views on goals and objectives. They covered the full spectrum of possible views. Some members have lived in Charleston or the Low Country for most of their lives and seen undesirable changes. There was an urgent need to preserve rural lands and open space, they said. These members presumably saw the application of funds for the creation of "greenbelts" in its more literal sense as the most important. But these members did not speak against other uses. At the other end of the spectrum were some of the representatives for the cities of the County who looked more to projects such as urban parks and open space. Some of us spoke about our experience overseas and gave examples of regions where planning had been a failure, or did not exist, and expressed the hope that Charleston would be different. Some members also spoke of the need for common sense in spending "greenbelt" funds and although goals may seem worthy, there was a limit as to what should be paid to achieve these goals.

Strong affection for Charleston
Affection for Charleston came through strongly in the expressions by many Board members and this was encouraging for those of us that originally feared that the half-cent sales tax would be used for political purposes. But having said this, contention seems certain in future on some issues. One issue could be whether the cities are getting their fair share of the sales tax proceeds. After all, the cities will be contributing the major part of the funds - arguably, they should receive the major portion of the spending. This will not sit well with those of us who look to some substantial spending on open space and greenbelts. Representatives of the cities may look to including spending on playgrounds, swimming pools and golf courses. These too will be contentious projects.

Need to give the public what it wants
This writer did not express a strong view as to the specific greenbelt targets for sales tax funding. Before targets are defined, which they will be with the definition of "greenbelts", he feels that the public should be engaged. After all, it is the public's money and should the public decide, for example, that all should be spent on greenbelts in its literal sense, then so be it. However, he is inclined to the view of Tom O'Rourke of the PRC. He opined at the GAB's first meeting that people were not sure what they wanted when they voted. When their opinions are sought, it will range from greenbelts, through open space, to urban parks. What proportion of total spending should be directed to each defined category is debatable at this stage. And arguably, spending limits should not be set - each project before the County should be judged on its merits.

Some strong views
But the writer does have some strong views - that sales tax funds should not be used in any way for the management of greenbelt projects and that a certain and high portion should be directed to projects that will allow public access. These things were written into the South Carolina Greenbelt Bank legislation. And they are worthy clauses.

Warwick Jones is a member of GAB

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