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Greenbelt Advisory Board October 4

A polite "thumbs down" on Conservation Bank
Observations on public hearings, and Good news for bikers
Warwick Jones, Editor

The Greenbelt Advisory Board will ask the County to defer a decision on the proposed Conservation Bank proposed by Council member Bostic until the Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan has been tabled. This could be more than 6 months away. As well, the Chairman of the GAB will send a letter to the County Council detailing the Board's concerns.

Mr. Charles Flink, the principal of Greenways Inc, the greenbelt consultant, made a presentation relating to the proposed bank and very broadly noted some pro and cons. The pros were - local focus on County needs, criteria can be tailored to suit the needs of the County, local board, offers a way to match Federal and private funding, can accept private funding. The cons were - is the Bank needed considering the existence of the State Bank and local land trusts in Charleston, new institutional framework with local costs and staffing, competes with State Bank and local trust companies.

Mr. Flink recommended that consideration be deferred until the Comprehensive Greenbelt plan was completed. Both the draft and final reports will contain recommendations relating to the formation of oversight entities to implement the greenbelts program. It is premature, he said, to know exactly what kind of organization this will be or if there is need to create a new organization. Greenways will suggest alternatives for implementation or management of the Greenbelts program. We noted and stated that there was no mention in the presentation about the ordinance that created the GAB and defined its duties. In our opinion, the proposed Bank would be contrary to both the spirit and the letter of the ordinance and the role of the GAB.

There was little enthusiasm for the Bank in its present form and most of the discussion by the Board was whether to ask Council to defer or reject the creation of the Bank. Most speakers seemed to acknowledge that the ultimate entity recommended by the Consultant and approved by the GAB could be far different in shape to that proposed by Council Member Bostic. But notwithstanding, the GAB unanimously agreed to seek deferral of the issue but asked the Chairman to convey to the Council the thoughts and concerns of the GAB.

Public wants focus on passive greenspace, natural resources and heritage landscapes
Mr. Flink also made some observations about the recent public hearings seeking comments on the County Greenbelt Plan. Some 344 Public Comment Forms, available at the public hearings, have been completed and received so far. He described the participation as excellent when compared with similar hearings he has conducted elsewhere. More than 50% of the attendees came from West Ashley, James Island and Mount Pleasant. The Greenbelt program should focus primarily on passive greenspace, low country natural resources, and heritage landscapes according to the Public Comment Forms. The preferred use of greenbelt resources was habitat protection, walking and biking, and interpretive parks. The lowest ranked priority was for active recreation - essentially golf courses, ballparks etc. The best way to protect and conserve greenspace was voluntary donations, private trusts and government purchases.

These finding were very preliminary and could be changed with more input. We noted the very low turnout from the Peninsula, and in particular from the East and West Sides. If there had been fuller participation, would "active greenspace" have received such a low ranking? Mr. Flink acknowledged this and offered to speak in these and other communities in an attempt to increase citizen involvement. It was our observation from speaking to attendees, an observation also made by the consultant, that the majority sought bikeways and paths through the community more than anything else. This gels with the top ranking given to "passive greenspace" on the Public Comment Form. This category was defined to included trails and greenways as well as interpretive parks and access points to water activities.

GAB to eschew condemnation
The final discussion of the GAB seemed more a public relations exercise than anything else. Before the Board was the statement "the intent of the GAB is to recommend no lands, interest in lands, or other interests in real property be acquired through the exercise of any power of eminent domain or condemnation proceeding". Although probably all members of the GAB generally look unfavorably on "condemnation, some of us wondered why it was up for consideration. The use of condemnation was not up to the GAB but to Council. Why were we considering this issue? Again, perhaps there could be convincing reasons to use this tool in a specific instance in future in which case, assuming the GAB were involved, it could easily reverse any decision it made today. The GAB voted to state its objection of the use of condemnation for the acquisition of greenbelt properties.
Thank you City of Charleston
It was not discussed at yesterday's meeting but the action of City Council last night will be of great interest to many participants in the Public Hearings seeking bikeways. The City, using a large chunk of change from the SCDOT plans to construct a bikeway along East Bay Street, linking the entrance to the new Cooper River Bridge to Calhoun Street. Importantly, this will give bikers access to a parking garage. One of the laments we heard frequently at the Public Hearings was the absence of parking facilities anywhere close to the entrance to the new bridge, with its excellent bike and walkway. But now citizens will have them though they will have to cycle another 1000 yards to get to the bridge entrance. But we suspect there will be no complaints. And besides, it will help fill up the City garage and we know that it could use some more revenue.

Cost of the bikeway is projected at $575,00 of which SCDOT will provide $460,000 and the City $115,000.

Warwick Jones is a member of GAB.