BY SAMANTHA J. SIEGEL
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
The public certainly has their eyes on the controversial Angel Oak Village Development. We are thrilled that the Charleston County Council Finance Committee rejected the City’s proposal to buy the already protected ‘conservation area’ from the developer at their meeting Thursday night.
We should all be very grateful that City Council member Mike Seekings raised important questions for County Council to consider. These questions also open the door for more unanswered questions to be addressed about the City’s support of the development that would surround the 1,400-year-old Angel Oak tree.
County Council will vote today on the City’s proposal to spend $518,000 in Greenbelt funds (our tax dollars) to buy 6.49 acres of land from a developer who is legally required to conserve this property regardless. The 6.49 acres, part of a 42-acre property, is already designated as a conservation area in the approved Planned Unit Development (PUD), making this proposal a complete waste of important Greenbelt funds.
In 2005, Angel Oak Village, LLC bought the 42- acre property for $3.5 million from Sea Island Comprehensive Health Care, as the non-profit was struggling to emerge from bankruptcy.
In the midst of Sea Island’s bankruptcy proceedings, before the sale was final, a special City Council meeting was held in which two ordinances on the property surrounding the Angel Oak passed. In both cases ‘the rules were suspended’ and the bills were ‘immediately ratified.’
The first bill amended the Angel Oak Village/Sea Island PUD, while the second provided for the issuance and sale of a general obligation bond anticipation note and contract of sale for the purchase of real estate between Sea Island Health Care Corp. and the City.
Thirteen pages of the minutes of the meeting are devoted to a detailed discussion of the need to clearly define the conservation area. Mayor Joe Riley stated his belief several times that the conservation area should be ‘a completely undisturbed area … he expressed his opinion that it means thicket.’
Council members also expressed their understanding that the ‘conservation zone meant this property would not be touched.’
The developer agreed to strict conditions of the PUD and purchased the land.
There was no ambiguity about how this portion of the PUD would be protected. Mayor Riley made it very clear that he felt the PUD protected the Angel Oak in 2005. Why does he now insist that we must spend over half a million dollars to protect the very same area in question?
The City cites the need to move the current parking area at Angel Oak Park off the tree’s root system. We couldn’t agree more. However, the city does not need to own the 6.49 acres to facilitate the move. The developer’s 2010 application to the federal government asserts that the development will actually protect the Angel Oak, saying the ‘plan eliminates these dangers to the tree by facilitating the relocation of parking and road access away from the Angel Oak root system. ‘ It is interesting that the developer’s parking and relocation plan looks exactly like the City’s proposed expansion of Angel Oak Park. If the developer is willing to expand the park without our tax dollars, why does the City propose purchasing the property?
One reason for the City’s support of the project was the need for more affordable housing in the area. The PUD approved by City Council states that the developer must provide a certain number of affordable units. However, the project’s latest plans submitted to the U.S Army Corps of Engineers have zero affordable units in Phase 1 of the development. Phase II shows only 55 affordable units. That would be 55 units out of 578 total units, which is out of compliance with the City Council-approved PUD, requiring 12 percent of the units be affordable, and does not provide the amount of affordable housing promised to residents.
The City should listen to the members of the community. As we have said for the past three years, the development plans are simply too intense and massive to be on the edge of the urban growth boundary, least of all next to this awe-inspiring tree.
The Angel Oak is too important to risk losing; just look at the length citizens will go to protect it.
Samantha J. Siegel is co-founder of www.savetheangeloak.org.