Support Funding for Land Protection
In 2004 and again in 2016, Charleston County voters supported the half-cent sales tax, which primarily funded road projects, but also set aside $221 million for land protection in its first iteration. Another $220 million will go towards the long-term protection of ecologically, culturally and historically significant places over the next 25 years.
Citizens were rightfully concerned that the new roads would mean new development that would destroy the unique rural character and quality of life in many parts of the county, as well as threaten our pristine landscapes and natural resources.
Charleston County Council appointed a 14-member Greenbelt Advisory Board to craft a plan on how Greenbelt funds would be spent. After 10 months of gathering extensive public input, conducting a greenspace inventory, and determining the future greenspace needs of the County, the Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan was finalized and approved unanimously by County Council in June 2006 and then incorporated into the County’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan in January 2007.
Land conservation is a complementary tool for planning and zoning decisions. Protecting land encourages rural land uses like farming and supports open space along rivers and marshes. Land conservation in strategic areas also reduces future traffic challenges by reducing development potential.
To date, the Charleston County Greenbelt Program has:
- Protected 21,000 additional acres in Charleston County. Combined with 17,000 acres protected by conservation partners and the 160,000 acres already protected when the program began, 30% of Charleston County lands are now conserved in perpetuity.
- Made our communities healthier. We all enjoy health and recreation benefits from being outdoors. Our ability to be outside, walk, run and enjoy the outdoors saves county residents money on medical bills and excess healthcare costs that are shouldered by taxpayers.
- Kept farmers on their land, and given all of us access to better food. The 2012 Census of Agriculture found three hundred fifty-nine farms in Charleston County generating $25 million in agriculture product value. These farms, either protected themselves or supported by a rural landscape of protected properties, provide fresh food for our community and South Carolina, and contribute to a thriving local restaurant community.
WHY PROTECT LAND?
Our region is defined by our bustling urban harbor, winding creeks and saltmarshes, healthy fisheries, rural farm and timberlands and thriving small communities.
- Approximately 67 percent of the County is in a FEMA flood hazard area. Protected lands, with or without public access, act as sponges to absorb floodwater and filter runoff, reducing the need for expensive stormwater infrastructure and protecting water quality.
- Our state’s fisheries and ocean-based tourism and recreation support nearly 79,000 jobs and generate over $4.4 billion in GDP each year in South Carolina.
Our region is also defined by fast-paced growth and development, popular beaches and tourist attractions.
- In 2017, 6.9 million visitors came to Charleston County, and tourism generated $7.37 billion in economic impact.
- The Tri-county region (Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester) has seen 38 new residents per day in recent years.
- The Census Bureau estimates Charleston County gained 4,868 residents in 2017. Previously, the county averaged nearly 7,600 additional residents each year since 2010.
To maintain balance between our natural resources, economic growth and quality of life, we must continue to invest in land protection throughout the region.
WHAT IS A CONSERVATION EASEMENT?
Easements involve working with a willing landowner, who retains ownership of the land but is compensated for reducing or eliminating the development rights on the property. Conservation easements are often cheaper than buying the land and keep the land on the county tax rolls. We believe the program should continue to prioritize easements over outright acquisition in the rural areas.
LAND CONSERVATION ACROSS SC
Since 1985, more than 1.2 million acres have been protected on the South Carolina coast. The healthy coastal greenbelt contains and enhances our growing community and provides recreational opportunities, clean water and an unparalleled quality of life. See maps below.
Recently, Charleston County Council approved a change in allocation that shifted $40 million from funding for rural land protection to urban projects. On recommendation from the Greenbelt Advisory Board, the allocation formula will be an even 50/50 split, instead of the original allocation of 70% rural/30% urban. With less funding for rural land protection available, it is more important than ever to ensure that funding goes to impactful, well-leveraged projects in both rural and urban areas.