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Greenbelt Bank, May 7

Requests for $23.2 million but only $3.9 million awarded
$39 million available for further funding

Warwick Jones

The latest round of applications for rural greenbelt funds brought eight submissions. The total amount sought was $23.2 million and if approved, would have dug deeply into the balance of funds available. However, only 4 projects were approved and the grants awarded totaled $3.9 million. Total funds available before the approvals of yesterday were $42.9 million. Partly reflecting the concerns of depletion, the Greenbelt Bank rejected one application and deferred decisions on the others, telling one applicant to seek a lower purchase price and another to provide more information.

A summary of the applications are shown in the accompany table Download file

Four of the applications sailed easily through the hearing. They were applauded for their scale, quality and low cost. The most impressive was the White Point Plantation project submitted by the Low Country Open Land Trust. The Trust was seeking $2.38 million to purchase a conservation easement over 1762 acres near Hollywood. The easement value was assessed at $12.3 million for which the owner accepted $2.38 million consideration. About 880 acres are marshland and the property has 7 miles of marsh and waterfront.

The Trust submitted another project, Palmetto Point, again seeking to purchase a conservation easement. In this case, it was over 146 acres at a cost of $123,750. The value of the easement was estimated at $495,000. The project is on the eastern side of John's Island. Included is 86 acres of marshland. The property also fronts the Kiawah River.

The Edisto Island Open Land Trust has been a frequent applicant for rural funds. It successfully sought a grant of $224,000 for a conservation easement over what was once part of the Sunnyside Plantation. The easement covers 62.4 acres and was valued at $800,000. The Trust has been successfully acquiring easements over properties in the Edisto region and in particular the Ace Basin. It noted that it was talking to other landowners to acquire further easements.

The Nature Conservancy is also a frequent applicant for rural funds. Yesterday, it sought $1.18 million for the purchase of a 374 acre parcel the Wando River Tract near the town of Awendaw. The tract is adjacent to the Francis Marion Forest and the Nature Conservancy expects to sell the property at cost to the Forestry Service or possibly the County PRC. Relative to the parcel size, the amount sought was large and reflected a fee simple acquisition. The value of the property was assessed at $3 million.

The remaining applications were not so straightforward. And as all related to fee simple purchases rather than conservation easements, the funds sought were generally much higher on both an absolute and per acre basis than the earlier applications.

The Town of Awendaw had two applications - for $6.37 million to purchase a 304 acre tract near the Town and another for $4.5 million to purchase 30.5 acres that were contiguous. The first, the Jefferson Tract was valued at $15 million. It would be sold to the Town by a developer who was having second thoughts it seemed about a large scale housing scheme. The second, the Awendaw Associates Tract was valued at $4.94 million. The Town talked of partnering with the County PRC and working the properties into the framework of others in the area, either in the Francis Marion Forest or other conserved properties. The properties also straddled the Inter Coastal Waterway. The Bank board members seemed happy about the properties but not the cost. It was clearly high. They deferred a decision on the Jefferson Tract and asked the town to get clarification as to the likely involvement of the PRC, and financing for development. They turned down the second application presumably because of the cost. If the applications were granted, the Bank would have provided over $20 million for the acquisition of 334 acres, equal to about $60,000 an acre. It would also have taken up half of the remaining rural greenbelt funds.

The Town of Hollywood was also an applicant, seeking $5.6 million to buy 8.2 acres at Wideawake Plantation. The Town wanted to make a park of the waterfront lot and to create a boat ramp. It made much of the fact that it was poor community and there were a lot of private boat ramps but none for the use of the public. The Town said the value of the lot was $7.85 million but the Bank disputed the valuation saying that it was based on the lot being developed. The valuation of the property as is, was $6.8 million. The Bank, obviously concerned about the high cost, deferred a decision and told the Town to attempt to negotiate a lower price.

The 10 mile Community north of the Town of Mount Pleasant sought to buy 1.08 acres on Seafood Lane for a waterfront park. It was seeking $220,000 for the purchase. However, as bank members noted, the property was within the Urban Growth Boundary, and it was beyond the power of the Bank to make a grant for such a property.

The Chair of the Greenbelt Advisory Board, Ms. Louise Maybank spoke at the end of the bank board meeting to comment on the situation that has risen and the difficulty for such communities as 10 Mile. The funds provided in the Greenbelt Plan for projects in the urban unincorporated areas of the County were relatively small and quickly absorbed. Projects such as Seafood Lane which have merit consequently cannot be funded. She had no solution to the problem and recognized that the Greenbelt Plan had been adopted by the County and could not be easily changed and funds reallocated. She asked the Bank Board to contemplate the problem.

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