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Viewer questions City's action over Angel Oak

A mere pawn in Charleston’s game of taxes?

Sir

In 2004, Charleston voters approved a ½ cent sales tax after 2 failed attempts. It was estimated that this tax will raise $1.3 billion over a 25 year period. A whopping 83% was earmarked for mass transit and roads. Roads such as the Mark Clark and Glenn McConnell extension which are “major sprawl-inducing projects” according to Dana Beach of SCCCL. Only 17%, down from the original 25%, of the tax will go to park and green space funding.

Just days before the sales tax increase was voted down in 2002, Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley was interviewed by the Post and Courier (10-28-02). He made his position clear. He wanted this referendum to pass in order to pay the local share of the new Cooper River Bridge and to prevent CARTA from shutting down but, more importantly, to protect our green spaces.

“This is a choice. We’ve got a chance to very substantially protect the beauty of our community…or not,” said Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. “If not, 25 years from now, a substantial part of what we all revere, the beauty of the Lowcountry, will be lost.”

The article goes on and he even used the Angel Oak to further his position.

“Riley cites the Angel Oak tree on Johns Island as an example of why the tax is needed. “The city owns the small plot on which the majestic tree is located, but the surrounding land is privately owned and has been proposed for development. The tax could provide the money to prevent that from happening”, he said.”

“The best poster child of why we need this is the Angel Oak,” he said. “It’s either going to be a beautifully wooded, classic sea island scene forever, or it’s going to be a caricature of a beautiful old tree slam up against a paved parking lot.”

In a Post and Courier article dated 9-15-04, the City of Charleston and Mayor Riley seemed to be sticking to their word.

“To make the land deal work financially for the developer and to protect the Angel Oak, Charleston has agreed to spend $1 million to buy 16 of the nearly 40 acres of the land Sea Island is selling, with plans to use the land to expand its Angel Oak Park. The city expects, however, that the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission will become the purchaser, putting up the $1 million and eventually operating the park. The city would turn over the existing two-acre Angel Oak Park to the county, creating an eighteen-acre park, Mayor Joe Riley said.”

By early 2005, another developer submitted a higher bid for the land. Inexplicably, the city passed on the opportunity to submit another offer to purchase this property for green space using the ½ cent sales tax. Didn’t Mayor Riley just months earlier call the Angel Oak and surrounding land the best poster child of why we need this additional sales tax? Even city employee Eric Schultz, Principal Planner, knew what the city was doing was wrong and stated so in an email.

“Gosh, I wish the city had purchased the property when it had a chance and the Mayor was very close to doing so. I’m grateful Sea Island got out of financial trouble, but the future development around the Oak is trouble too…Regarding your request for possible purchases with the ½ cent sales tax $$$ - Please nominate the lands around the Angel Oak Park so the city can do as it feels right.”

Today the property is in the planning stages for development with Mayor Riley and the city’s approval. The property has been annexed into the city, the PUD has been approved and the developer has been granted a variance to remove Grand Trees. Although, the Commercial Corridor Design Review Board rejected building plans for numerous reasons and the developer has yet to attain permission to fill in many acres of wetlands. This development is by no means a “done deal”.

This is my question for the City of Charleston and Mayor Riley: Did you use the Angel Oak as your pawn to achieve the city’s agenda of a higher tax to be used for mass transit, roads and other green spaces? I can think of no green space more deserving of this tax money than the Angel Oak and her surrounding forest and apparently neither could you, Mayor Riley, back in 2002.

Lorna Hattler – co-founder of savetheangeloak.org
731 Sonny Boy Lane
Johns Island

843-557-0230

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