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County Council, August 30

Hunting rights issues cause deferral of Fairlawn greenbelt grant hearing
Council member Qualey tries to stop study of Kiawah River Plantation TIF
Warwick Jones

There was a lot of talk at the Finance Committee last night but not much action. Council member Darby was not happy that the owners of Fairlawn Plantation had asked that a decision on their Greenbelt grant be deferred. He wanted a vote and thought that deferrals of matters brought before Council had been granted in an inconsistent manner. Many Council members disagreed and after prolonged discussion, voted to defer a decision on Fairlawn for 90 days. And then there was the Kiawah River Plantation TIF agreement. Council member Qualey sought to kill consideration of a TIF district to aid the development. And this too went nowhere.

But let’s start with the least important issue first and give credit to Council member Schweers for his courage to oppose the greenbelt grant of $195,000 for a 10 acre “veteran’s park” on Johns Island. The application had been turned down by the Greenbelt Bank at the first hearing. When Council heard the request, some Council members were unhappy and thought that a 10 acre wooded lot was not appropriate for the park's primary purpose – to allow veterans to create gardens. Where were the funds to clear the property? A more suitable lot would be smaller and cleared. Nevertheless Council requested the Bank to reconsider the application in the light of a $10,000 gift offered to the veterans by the seller of the property.

The Greenbelt Bank unanimously agreed to the grant when it reconsidered it and Council in turn approved it last night. But from the questions, there was a lot of unease on Council. Was the County protected if the non-profit receiving the grant and acquiring the property failed to live up to its promises? What was the background of the non-profit? Who were these veterans? Where did they meet? Despite taunts that amounted to accusations of disregard and callousness, and out of line in our opinion, only Council member Schweers voted against the grant. He simply thought the veterans would be served by a smaller and cleared lot. And frankly, we think he was right.

What are the rights of heirs of a previous owner?
The Fairlawn Greenbelt application is a mess. And it became very apparent last night when the Finance Committee considered the owners’ request to defer consideration. In broad terms, the present owners were seeking $11.5 million from the Greenbelt Bank and the rezoning of 506 acres in the south from one dwelling per 25 acres to one dwelling to 3 acres in consideration for selling 4,825 acres and which would ultimately be sold to the US Forest Service and permanently protected, and for a conservation easement over 1,193 acres. The deal was approved by the Greenbelt Bank but subject to some provisos such as the rezoning of the 506 acres, and the resolution of a lawsuit over part of the property. And emerging from last night’s meeting, there is now a disagreement over the rights of the heirs and family of a former owner of the property.

One of the heirs addressed the Committee and told it that his father sold the property some year ago to the present owners but with the condition that family members retained the right to hunt on the property until their demise. He knew nothing of the termination or relinquishment of hunting rights until reading the Post and Courier. He clearly was disputing this and added that as hunting extended through the year, the public did not have a right to access.

The present owners in their submission to the Bank thought they had tied up the issue of hunting rights. It seems they haven’t. And there also seems an issue as to whether the public has access to the properties while those hunting rights exist. The present owners have retained a lawyer to help sort it out.

And as for the rezoning of the 506 acres and the lawsuit, the present owners sought a deferral of the rezoning request at the last meeting of the Planning Commission because of the issues that have arisen. And to the extent that we understand it, the law suit should not be an impediment. It was brought against the Town of Awendaw by the Coastal Conservation League (CCL) to stop the town from annexing part of the Fairlawn property. A spokeswoman for CCL said last night that CCL would cease its action if the greenbelt purchase went ahead.

As discussion proceeded about the project, Council member Qualey reminded the Committee that the issue before was a request for deferral, not for approval. The Committee voted to defer a decision.

Committee agrees to continue study of Kiawah River Plantation TIF
The creation of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district to assist the Beach Company finance the development of its 1,426 acre Kiawah River Plantation project is contentious. But it is not contentious in Councilmember Qualey’s district. Everybody opposes it! He told this to the Finance Committee last night and made a motion that the County abandons efforts to study the issue. It was seconded by Council member Schweers.

The Kiawah River Project came before the Committee as County Administrator Taylor gave an update as to progress of the study. In summary, the study was proceeding well and was about halfway through. The waste water treatment was the most critical part of the study.

Council member Qualey’s motion did not sit well with most Council members. We have called for the study so let’s complete it before we pass judgment, they said. Council member Schweers withdrew his support of the motion and it therefore died for lack of a second.

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