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City Council, January 14

Good news for Angel Oak preservationists
Council to be briefed on Gathering Place concept
Marc Knapp

It was always a hope of many City residents and others that more of the land surrounding the Angel Oak on Johns Island would be preserved. This hope was realized with the announcement last night by Mayor Riley that the 18.7 acre parcel known as Phase l was to be bought from the developer at a cost of $3.3 million. The purchase follows that of the 17 acre parcel known as Phase ll last year. In combination, the two parcels will largely envelop the City-owned Angel Oak property on all sides except the southern.

The move was led by the Low Country Open Land Trust (LCOLT) which played a major role in the purchase of the Phase ll parcel. The major source of financing for the latest purchase will most likely again be the County through the Greenbelt Bank. The LCOLT is committed to providing $400,000 and the City $400,000. The County Council Chair has committed the County to the $2.5 million balance, though the commitment will need to be approved by both the Greenbelt Bank and the Council.

The cost of the Phase ll parcel, purchased last year, was $3.6 million. The County Greenbelt Bank provided a grant of $2.4 million and the LCOLT, the $1.2 million balance.

The roughly 40 acre area – the Phase l and ll parcels and that owned by the City which contains the Angel Oak- will be managed by the Parks and Recreation Commission as a passive park with public access.

Further protection to the Angel Oak site was afforded by the purchase last year by the LCOLT of a 57 acre conservation easement over the two properties to the immediate south of the Phase l property. The purchase was enabled by a $267,000 grant from the County Greenbelt Bank. The ownership of these properties is unchanged.

City Council unanimously agreed to committing the City to providing $400,000 in financing for the purchase of the Phase l property.

Citizen Participation brought out a number of residents of James Island to speak about the Gathering Place development near the junction of Folly Road and Maybank Highway. The issue has generated a lot of heat and comment – the development is out of scale, the parking garage is too large, too many trees are being removed, and the high density will create traffic problems, particularly considering the intermittent closure of Folly Road as it passes over the nearby draw bridge.

We won’t comment on the development except to say we think that there have been many public hearings on the issue. And as one of the speakers noted last night, in support of the development, the high density effectively helps to confine urban sprawl that is threatening the City and County.

Council member Moody noted correctly in our view that it was probably too late to make changes to the development. But he thought it would be a good idea if Council was briefed by staff as to the nature and purpose of a Gathering Place. After all, City Planning has created Gathering Places in other parts of Folly Road and Maybank Highway. The Mayor readily agreed and commented that the public would be invited to any briefing.

One of the bills up for first reading got the attention of Council member White. It related to an amendment that would “make it a criminal offense to carry an open vessel containing beer wine or any alcoholic beverage on a private parking lot that is open for the public’s use without the property owner’s permission”.

Why, asked the Council member, presumably thinking this was something out of proportion? Mayor Riley did not speak to the issue but passed it immediately to Police Chief Mullen.

After a good natured acknowledgment that he could rely on the Council member asking such a question
Chief Mullen stated that it was part of the City’s effort to control late night drinking, presumably in the King Street area. It happens that some folk take their beverages from bars and restaurants and imbibe in the parking lots and beyond police jurisdiction.

Council member Alexander wondered how such a rule would be enforced? He also wondered why the issue had not come before the Public Safety Commission. The Chief replied that any person found drinking in such a lot would be asked if he/she had permission from the owner. If the answer was in the affirmative, confirmation would be sought immediately with the restaurant or bar. And the Mayor agreed that the issue should have first come before the Commission.

The amendment was passed unanimously

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