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Greenbelt Advisory Board, Special Meeting, March 27

Board sticks with 70% rural allocation
And with "per capita" allocation for urban greenbelt funding
Warwick Jones, Editor

In a sense, nothing much happened at the special meeting of the Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB) yesterday. But the meeting still took the best part of two hours. It had been called to discuss the adverse comment made at one of the public hearings earlier this month on the Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan. Some citizens sought a higher allocation of funds for urban greenspace, The meeting was also to discuss the distribution of funds to municipalities for urban greenspace on a per capita basis, agreed to at the previous meeting. The Consultant thought that the distribution on a per capita basis would not be agreeable to the County. After considerable discussion, the Board left its previous decisions unchanged.

Some seek a 60% allocation to urban greenspace
Earlier this month, public hearings were held to discuss the draft Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan. Some citizens attending a public hearing at Mount Pleasant expressed strong opposition to the 70/30 split of funds between Rural and Urban greenspace. A better split they said would be 40/60. According to the GAB chairman, the criticism was harsh and challenged the integrity of the Board. To counter it, she offered to raise the issue. It would be the Board's pleasure as to how it deals with it.

Letter to the GAB
In support of the 40/60 split, the Mount Pleasant Open Space Foundation sent a letter to the Chairman of the GAB. Amongst other things, the letter said
• The current split of 70/30 is inconsistent with input from the public workshops and grossly misrepresents the number of people in support of green space protection in the urban areas.
• There's a lack of evidence supporting that the "public" made such a recommendation for a 70/30 allocation of funds with the majority slated for rural projects.
• The urban areas have a greater sense of urgency, due to increasing development pressures.
• Land costs are significantly higher in urban areas than rural areas. Hence the dollars spent on land acquisition in the urban areas will conserve less land than in the rural areas.
• Municipalities have greater ability to bond funds upfront in order to respond quickly to land acquisitions.

Public hearings favorable but poorly attended
Before moving on to the contentious issues before the Board, the Consultant discussed the results of the recent series of public workshops on the Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan. He noted that the responses from those who attended the four meetings were only a disappointing 145. However, he did offer the opinion that people tend to come out when they feel threatened by what is proposed. The poor attendance could perhaps be read as an endorsement of the plan though he was not going to be emphatic about this.

Attendees were asked:

Did they support the draft Greenbelts Plan as presented? Of the total, 73% responded favorably and 25% unfavorably to the. The majority of dissent was from Mount Pleasant, and in particular, in a written response from the Mount Pleasant Open Space Foundation and 18 associated citizens.

Did they support the green space goals articulated within the plan? 82% responded in favor and 14% unfavorably. Again, the majority of opposition came from Mount Pleasant, and in particular, the Mount Pleasant Open Space Foundation.

To rank the order of importance for all Greenbelt components in order of importance. The rankings in order of importance were
• Low country wetlands.
• Greenway corridors.
• Rural Greenbelt Lands.
• Urban Greenbelt Lands.
• Francis Marion Forest.
• PRC Parks

Did they support the 70/30 funding allocation model in the plan? 57% said yes with another 3% suggesting an even higher ratio for rural area. 35% said that a higher urban ratio would be better and 5% had "other" or no response.

Do they prefer that the County fund projects as soon as possible or spread out over 25 years? 84% favored now and 10% favored 25 years.

Nobody was suggesting that the survey was scientific or that the sample was large enough to be meaningful. But on face value, the public response was favorable to the Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan. And it provided the background for the subsequent discussion.

Member seeks deferral of discussion
Board member Ravenel, who represents the Town of Mount Pleasant, was concerned that the 70/30 funding allocation would be discussed at the meeting. Some citizens of Mount Pleasant wanted to be present at the discussion. They were under the impression that the issue would be addressed at the regular meeting of the GAB the next day. However, the Chairman of the GAB urged that a decision be made today because of the presentation by the consultant to the PRC this evening which related to the Comprehensive Plan.

The Chairman and others also spoke of the good intentions and integrity of the GAB members, and by inference, the undeserving harshness of the criticism of the GAB.

Nobody wanted to again discuss the issue
There also was the issue as to whether the Chairman had committed the GAB to a discussion of the funding allocation. It was the general view that she hadn't and that it was up to the GAB members to decide whether they wished to discuss the matter again. According to procedural rules, only a member of the Board who voted for the 70/30 funding allocation could make a motion to again discuss the matter. No member was inclined to do so. Therefore, the matter died.

Per capita distribution for Urban areas may not fly
At the last meeting, the GAB decided to recommend that allocations for Urban greenspace be distributed to municipalities on a per capita basis. For the purposes of this calculation, unincorporated areas of the County within the urban growth boundary should receive allocations on a per capita basis, similar to those to the municipalities. The decision to distribute on a per capita basis was not supported by all members of the GAB. The dissenting members would have preferred to distribute funds for urban areas by way of grants and on the basis of a project's merit.

The Consultant raised the issue, because some members of the Board were unsure as to what they precisely voted for at the last meeting. And secondly, there was some doubt as to whether the County would find the decision politically acceptable.

Data on population distribution out of date
County staff spoke to the issue and drew attention to the difficulty of determining the population of some of the areas, and specifically, the unincorporated areas. The most reliable data was contained in the 2000 census, much of which was now out of date, particularly with the annexations that have occurred. Clearly, the determination of allocations could be difficult. However, the GAB decided to stick with its previous recommendation, and although there may be difficulties, the solution wold lie with the County.

The Chairman also spoke of a meeting with the Chairman of the County Council. She discussed plans for a referendum to approve the issue of bonds to finance both rural and urban Greenbelt acquisitions. Council Chairman Stavrinakis opined that it would not be possible to move to a bond referendum until specific projects had been identified. This was a matter of contention, but it was not discussed further at yesterday's meeting.

Warwick Jones is a member of GAB