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Greenbelt Advisory Board Meeting January 10

Board opts to emphasize rural funding

Defines "minor improvements" that it will consider

Warwick Jones, Editor

In a sense, yesterday's meeting was a win for rural as opposed to urban greenspace. But this is to suggest that there are opposing factions developing in the Greenbelt Advisory Board. The matter is really one of degree and not of absolutes. I am sure every member of the GAB wishes there were enough funding to enable all parties to acquire greenspace as needed. But there isn't, so some hard decisions have to be made about the split of funding received from the half-cent sales tax.

Split is intent only
After receiving a submission from the Mayors of the major municipalities, presentations by two of the mayors, and considerable deliberation, the GAB decided on a 70% rural and 30% urban split. This should be seen only as an intent. The GAB has not reached the end of its deliberations and although no change in the ratio is anticipated, it is very likely that other factors will be put in place to make this split more an aspiration than anything else and that projects that are particularly worthy will be considered regardless of the rural/urban split. After all the wording of the Statement of Intent says that allocation will be based, in part, on the formula…

Mayors address Board
Mayors Summey and Hallman made brief comments. Mayor Riley was unable to come to the meeting. A letter signed by all three Mayors was presented to the GAB. In summary, it stated that the Mayors recognized the importance of rural greenspace but they thought the 70% allocation was too high and that more needed to be allocated to urban greenspace. They asked that the percentage be raised from 30% to 40%. They also noted that the three major municipalities accounted for about 75% of the County's population. They noted the need for urban greenspace, the rapidly rising land prices and the need to act speedily. They also noted the large effort they had put into selling the sales tax to voters in the referendum. Although not specifically stated in the letter, the discussion that followed indicated their belief that this effort was the prime reason for the success of the referendum.

There was much in the letter to discuss, and more later in the statements made by those representing the Cities. However, the Chairman of the GAB rightfully asked that we confine ourselves to question of the Mayors and reserve discussion of the issues to later when the matter of the split came up on the agenda.

Spirited discussion
In the opinion of this Board member, the discussion although not heated, was the most spirited of any since the GAB's formation. But this was more a reflection of the absence of divisive issues in the past. Some members shared the views of the Mayors. Nobody disputed the need to fund urban greenspace but the need for rural greenspace was just as pressing, perhaps more so. To buy land for urban greenspace may be difficult, but after rural land is developed, the purchase for rural greenspace is prohibitively expensive. Also the Mayors' claim to represent the views citizens of their municipalities was specious. Public hearings were designed to measure citizens' views and they pointed to more rural greenspace (and bike and walkways), even for citizens living in the municipalities. One member of GAB opined that the majority of people voting in the referendum thought they were voting for greenbelts in the rural setting and not urban greenspace.

Compromise rejected
Board member Ravenel suggested that we compromise and change the ratio from 70/30 to 65/35 but Chairman Maybank opposed such a more. She said we should make what we believe is right. If Council is unhappy with our decision, then it has the right to change it. But we must state what we think.

When it came to a vote, it was 8 for retention of the 70/30 split with 5 opposed. Opposed to the split were Board members Anderson, Ravenel, Canterbury, Bennett and Singleton. The first 2 members represent North Charleston and Mount Pleasant respectively. Board member Thompson, who represents the City of Charleston, was absent from the meeting.

Members vote to reduce improvements that may be considered for funding
Another part of the Statement of Intent divided members. The issue was to what was included in related minor improvements. Most members believed that when it comes to funding greenbelts, sales tax proceeds should be used only for land purchase and not for any improvements. The representatives of the Cities objected and asked that some improvements be included. At the previous meeting, members agreed to the wording Certain restricted funding for related minor improvements will be allowed. This was subject to the creation of a list showing what these minor improvements might be. The consultant in conjunction with Board member Thompson created a list that included such items as benches, roads, sports fields, play grounds, water fountains, restroom facilities. This was far too much and went well beyond members' view of what was minor. Members voted to exclude most of the items and left only unpaved trails, unpaved roadways and parking areas, and footbridges.

Warwick Jones is a member of the GAB

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