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Greenbelts – Urban Grants Review Committee, May 8

Some dissention over application from Town of James Island
Committee approves grants of $1.85 million
Warwick Jones

The determination of grants of greenbelt funds took a first step yesterday. The Urban Grants Review Committee had the first 17 applications before it. It approved 5. The remainder were rejected because they were incomplete and not because of insufficient merit. The applicants can reapply for consideration at the next round of approvals later this year. In total, the Committee approved grants totaling $1.85 million. The applications will now move to the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) for endorsement and further scrutiny. They will then move to County Council for final approval.

Yesterday’s meeting was the first at which the 6 member Committee considered the allocation of grants. Chairman Duggan, treading cautiously in the first steps, sought what he and others thought to be the most straightforward of the applications. It proved not to be. It provoked a discussion as to the role of the Committee. The resolution of the issue may well require the Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB) to consider some fine tuning of the Committee’s task.

James Island wants to buy Riverland Terrace Park
The issue was over a property on James Island, the Riverland Terrace Park. The property is owned by the County Schools District and is surplus to its needs. The newly formed Town of James Island was seeking a $600,000 grant to buy the property and make minor improvements and cover closing costs. The Town of James Island was to provide a matching grant $46,000. The Town argued that although the 5.4 acres was presently used as a park, the Schools District could sell the property should it desire, and the park lost. Better that the Town buy it and preserve it.

But issues surface
It seemed that Committee members would have approved the grant if the issue was so simple. But it further transpired that the City of Charleston has a lease which expires in 2018. It maintains the property as a park. The lease was renewable but the School District had the right to revoke the lease at its pleasure. This made the issue a little gray. But it became a much darker shade when the City of Charleston spokesman noted the existence of a “reverter” clause. The original owner wanted the property used only for the public good. If not, the property reverted to heirs of the original owners.

There was clear inference that because of the “reverter”, the property could not be sold to a developer. But as someone else pointed out, the School District could still build on the property for its own purpose and the park lost.

In the minds of some of the Committee members, (and the public) the question was raised as to why commit $600,000 to a park which was likely to remain a park without the grant. As well, more information was needed about the “reverter” clause.

Should the application be approved?
Then the issue arose as to what to do with this application. The two PRC members of the Committee wanted to defer the application until clarification could be sought on legal title and the “reverter” clause. They thought it was the Committee’s duty to clarify these issues. After much debate, Chairman Duggan, with the support of the other members, thought that it was not up to the Committee to deliberate on these matters. Its duty was to determine whether the parcel meet greenbelt standards. It was up to the PRC and Council to work on the legal issues and in the light of resolution, decide on the merits of the application. The Chairman prevailed and the application was approved with the two PRC appointees abstaining.

Should the Committee’s role be better defined?
It is reasonable to ask the question as to why the Committee should not clarify the issues before sending on to the PRC. But as the Chair of the GAB, who was in the audience reminded me, the GAB debated the Urban Grant process and the Board decided to make allocations of funds on the basis of population. e.g. If the City of Charleston had 35% of the population of the County then it received 35% of the funds set aside for urban grants. As well, it would be left to the Cities and municipalities to choose the projects they endorsed. The Urban Review Committee would not attempt to score projects but just review then to be sure that they conformed to greenbelt policy. So Chairman Duggan may well have had the proper approach. But it does seem to us that applications should contain all details, such as easements and “reverter” clauses in relation to title of the properties to be acquired.

The Riverland Terrace application took more than an hour to discuss. After a more than half hour executive session, there was little less than an hour remaining to discuss the other applications. The time proved sufficient.

Other successful applications
The application by the City of Charleston for $430,000 to finance the 1.25 acres known as Ellis Oaks” in front of the Lowes Center on James Island was approved unanimously The City has already agreed to buy this property and will be reimbursed from Greenbelt funds. The City plans to convert the space into a park and a spokesman for the City talked of connectivity of the property to the water and other nearby greenspace.

The other applications approved were:

Graymarsh Road - Mount Pleasant. Parkwest Development had applied for $270,000 for financing 9 acres of passive park

Ten Mile Community – Awendaw. The Ten Mile District Association had applied for $275,000 to buy 1.08 acres for passive greenspace. The Committee approved $200,000.

St Andrews Parks and Recreation District – West Ashley near Bees Ferry Road . The Hunt Club Trail System applied for $3 million to buy 153.7 acres for a passive park. The application was for more funds than available. The Committee approved $276,000 for the acquisition of 120 acres of which about 108 acres were wetlands. The balance of the land, about 33 acres was highland. A spokesman for the applicant spoke of the value of this highland area and the scope for creating of artificial lakes. The soil removed in their creation could be used to cover the nearby County dump.

Phillips Community - Awendaw. Application was for $550,000 to buy 5 acres to construct a Community Center and park. The property had access to water. The Committee was close to rejecting the application because the appraisal document submitted was for 10 acres. The 5 acres to be purchased was not defined. The appraisal also was not current. However, the Committee did agree that the application was complete in that there was an appraisal - a stretch in our view. It requested a current appraisal of the 5 acres, and approved a grant of $550,000 or that of the appraisal, which ever was less.

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