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County Council, October 20

Funding issues for Greenbelts
“Qualey” Plan approved for Harbor View Road
Warwick Jones

Differences seem to be growing on Council as to the direction of greenbelt funding. Some Council members contend that too much as been spent on conservation easements. More funding needs to be directed to acquiring property where the public has access, they say. The difference came to a head last night when a project approved by the Greenbelt Bank failed to win approval by the Finance Committee. The vote was evenly divided (4/4). Council member Summey was absent last night and his vote will be critical when Council meets on Tuesday evening next and the item is again considered. Council members Darby, Qualey, and Johnson, and Chairman Pryor voted against the approval at yesterday’s Finance Committee meeting. The slow deliberation by Council member Rawl suggests he too has some reservations about the financing of conservation easements.

The financing at issue was a grant by the Greenbelt Bank to purchase a conservation easement over a 19-acre parcel at 1463 Grans Avenue on Wadmalaw Island for $76,000. The property abuts other protected properties. The Low Country Open Land Trust sought the easement. The owner of the property retains the right to construct two new dwellings but cannot subdivide the property.

Council member Darby did not speak specifically against the application but noted that in his view too much funding had been directed to easements where there was not the opportunity for public access. There was little discussion before the vote though afterwards, Council member Schweers voiced strong concern. He noted that funds for greenbelts flowed from the half-cent sales tax that had been approved by referendum. Conservation easements were a major tool in creating greenbelts. He probably had more to say but seemed lost for words “ It’s beyond me”, he lamented over the lost vote.

The other rural greenbelt item, an amendment to a previously approved application to the Greenbelt Bank, was approved by the Finance Committee, but only just. Council member Johnson deliberated over her vote and seemed to be swayed by the fact that there would be public access for one day a year. She did not join Council members Darby and Qualey, and Chairman Pryor in opposing the amendment. The amendment reflected a change in the amount of land to be held under the conservation easement - a drop to 126.9 aces from 148.9 acres. The funding remained unchanged at $350,000. The owners will open the property – Graves Ashe Point Farm - to the public during the Edisto Island Open Land Trust annual “Back to Nature” event.

We expect that the future of greenbelt funding will be debated at the next Council meeting, or at least, a strong show of support by Council member Schweers for the continuation of funding for conservation easements.

County OK’s changed Harbor View Road project – but other approvals still required
The Finance Committee endorsed the “Qualey” proposal for Harbor View Road on James Island. The item was discussed at a Finance Committee meeting a month ago. In the meantime, staff had the opportunity to make further study and last night told the Finance Committee that the proposed changes would add $1.48 million to the cost. In such financially tight times as the present, such a large added cost would have been sufficient to kill the proposal, we believe. But we think that the Committee was swayed by the fact that the likely cost of the project had fallen substantially. The original project had an estimated cost of $18 million. But the estimate without the proposed “Qualey” changes was now about $12 – $14 million. So even with an extra $1.5 million, the project would come in well below the first estimate.

Staff told the Committee that if it approved the “Qualey” proposal, there was no guarantee that it would proceed. The owners of the road - the SC Department of Transportation (SCDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)- still had to approve the changes and approvals were not certain. The changes included altering the nature and location of pedestrian and bike lanes, reduction in the width of a turning lane, and the installation of traffic lights at two intersections.

Staff was instructed to;

  1. Perform an environmental review subject to SCDOT and FHWA approval.

  2. Prepare revised roadway and drainage plans subject to SCDOT and City of Charleston approval.

  3. Coordinate revised utility relocation plans with the affected utility owners

  4. Perform Right of Way acquisition based on the new design

  5. Modify the existing US Army Corps wetland fill permit.

Staff estimated an 18-month time period to complete the above tasks.

A public hearing is to be scheduled on the proposed new plan. Mindful of the issues relating to the completion of I-526 and the so-called “silent majority” that want it completed, Council member Schweers implored citizens to make their views known.

Other items were

  1. No change in the County’s position on accepting plastic in garden waste. After November 1, garden waste containing plastic (from plastic bags) will not be accepted at the Bees Ferry land fill.
  2. At a special meeting on Tuesday (October 25) at 6pm, the Finance Committee will consider joining the SC Association of Counties to support a number of counties challenging the State Electoral Commission and the State itself to mandate the County Election Commission to conduct a PresidentiaI Preference Primary. The suitors claim that an unfunded mandate cannot be imposed on them, to use public funds raised by taxes to pay for a private entity’s (The Republican Party) function.
  3. At the same meeting, staff will present options for changes to member’s districts. These changes have been made in the light of the last census. As we mentioned in an earlier note, in particular the districts of Council members Darby and Pryor need to be enlarged and that of Council member Sass reduced, to bring constituent numbers in line with the average of all districts.
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