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Greenbelt Advisory Board, May 1

New members and a review
Some discussion on Long Savannah development
Warwick Jones

It is some months since the last Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB) meeting. As most members are appointed by Council members, there were a number of new members following the County election last November. There are 14 members of the Board of which 5 are new. Another member should be appointed shortly by the Town of Mount Pleasant. Mount Pleasant and the cities of North Charleston and Charleston each have the right to appoint a member as well.

The new members and their appointees are as follows:
Dwayne Green - Chairman Scott
Leonard Greene – Council member Condon
Jim Koenig – Council member McKeown
Kely Levenitis – Council member Thurmond
Claron Robertson – Rural South, Chairman Scott

Louise Maybank was elected Chair and this writer, Deputy Chair.

Much of the meeting was taken up by a presentation by Cathy Ruff of County Staff. The presentation was essentially an orientation for new members and related largely to the Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan.

Ms Ruff also noted that the dead lines for applications for grants under the greenbelt programs had been extended. Staff was still working through the applications but as of yesterday there were 19 applications for Rural Grants and 18 for Urban Grants. But ultimately there will be more.

In relation to the Rural applications, the total funds requested amounted to $24.5 million and the “match” funds noted by applicants amounted to $27 million. Many of the applications related to conservation easements and the “matching funds” represented that part of the easement value given by the owners of properties. The total funds requested for Urban Grants amounted to $8 million of which the total match listed by applicants was $0.83 million. Generally, the quality of the applications was high according to Ms. Ruff

Some minor changes in Grant ordinance process made, others to be considered
Ms. Ruff also noted that some minor changes had been made to the grant ordinance – the nature of applicants had been widened to include some government agencies such as the Forestry Service, payments could be spread over time to minimize tax liabilities of recipients, non-profits could use funds for matching grants, and an applicant could still receive funds should it decide to go ahead with the purchase of property or rights before final approval because of timeliness considerations.

The review process has some areas that needed to be revisited and perhaps modified. In particular, a widening for the scope of minor improvements to be financed by greenbelt funds, uniform deadlines for both the Urban and Rural Grant applications, a reduction in the number of copies (presently 25) of the entire application, the need for an appraisal at time of application, and others.

The GAB would consider these at its next meeting in June.

Decision on Long Savannah proposal probably a year or so away
The only other matter raised (by this writer) was the Long Savannah Development proposed for West Ashley. I had no suggestion to make but thought I should note what has been proposed by the developer and the City of Charleston. The developer is attempting to “negotiate” with the Parks and Recreation Commission a deal whereby the Commission acquires for greenspace 1100 acres abutting the planned subdivision, and presumably at a “low” price. Also the City of Charleston hopes to acquire a smaller parcel at a “low” price also for greenspace and is seeking sales-tax funding. The quid pro quo for these deals is that the County move the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) to include the Long Savannah Development in the urban side.

The UGB is integral to the Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan and any move should be very carefully weighed, I suggested.

Ms. Maybank thought that it was premature to make any decision or to take any action as so much still remained to be decided. This position was echoed by Dan Pennick, head of Planning. He opined that it could be well over a year before a decision was made. The developer had not come back to the Planning Commission since the meeting towards the end of last year. To move the UGB would need a public hearing, a hearing before the Planning Commission before it got to Council. And perhaps more importantly, the County’s Comprehensive Plan was to be updated over the next year or so. It was doubtful that Council would make any decision on the UGB until the new plan was available. And in relation to the new Plan, the County hoped to hire a consultant and conduct public hearings in a manner similar to that for the Greenbelt Comprehensive Plan.