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Ellis Oaks Greenbelt Grant Purchase – a day late and a dollar short!

Lee Walton

Charleston City Council proposes to use Urban Greenbelt Grant Funds from Charleston County’s Transportation “Half-Cent” Sales Tax proceeds to reimburse itself for a previous action to purchase the surviving remnants of a sea-island plantation garden at the intersection of Folly Road and Ellis Oaks Drive for use as a passive urban park. At its September 12, 2006 meeting, City Council agreed to purchase this 1.25-acre site, admired for its majestic Live-Oak canopy and mature azaleas, for $430,000. Council’s action ended several unsuccessful development attempts by the owner and Ellis heir, which were stymied by persistent public opposition and the City’s Grand Tree preservation regulations that severely restricted its commercial potential. At its recent March 27th meeting, Council agreed to seek a $430,000 Urban Greenbelt Grant as reimbursement for what it had already agreed to pay for the purchase of this rare example of what was once commonplace on James Island.

Given the peculiar circumstances of the purchase and questionable appraisal history of this parcel, one has good reason to be skeptical of City Council’s actions and motives. According the County Assessor, the reassessed value of this parcel was slashed from approximately $1.1 million to a piddling $200 following the property owners’ successfully appeal on the grounds that the City’s tree preservation ordinance so severely restricted development that the property was, for all intent and purpose, not economically feasible to develop.

To seek reimbursement from half-cent sales tax revenues after the fact seems disingenuous. Why always the intrigue and last minute revelations? Why not just be open, honest, and forthcoming and announce that the City wanted to buy it with funds from the half-cent sales tax and preserve it as a green space?

Better still, why didn’t the City insist that the developers of the “Ellis Tract” protect and preserve at least ten times this amount of heavily wooded green space for public park or recreational uses as mitigation for dozens of majestic Live-Oaks cut-down to build the extensive commercial and high density residential development that was allowed to occur. Where were the City’s world famous urban planners and self-appointed environmental watchdogs that allowed another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be squandered like Ansonborough Field or McLeod Plantation? Public green space, parkland, or playgrounds are nonexistent north of Camp Road and east of Riverland Drive. Now, thanks to Mayor Joe and his handpicked Council of poltroons, there will never be another chance to save anything in the northeast part of James Island except this one isolated postage stamp of green surrounded by a jungle of sprawling suburban development and asphalt.

Notwithstanding the inexcusable lost opportunities to acquire meaningful urban green space and the smoke and mirrors commonplace in City Hall, if this one small vestige of James Island's former past is preserved and maintained as a passive park, $430,000 will be a bargain for the citizens of James Island and Folly Beach. The psychological value alone will likely cut down on “road-rage” as frustrated commuters gaze into this little patch of green and wait through endless cycles of the traffic light at this infamous intersection caused by the over-development of the Ellis Tract.

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