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This week, Charleston County Council revised the allocation formula for Greenbelt funds generated from its 2016 voter-approved local option sales tax. In response to the affirmative recommendation of the Greenbelt Advisory Board, the 70-30 fund split between rural and urban (respectively) land conservation efforts adopted for the 2004 round of funds has been rebalanced to a 50-50 split for the latest funding round.
The new division of funds evenly splits $200 million to land conservation projects outside the urban growth boundary (Awendaw, Wadmalaw, Edisto, Hollywood, Meggett, Ravenel, portions of John’s Island, etc.) with projects inside the urban growth boundary (Charleston, North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Folly, Kiawah, Seabrook, Isle of Palms, Sullivans, etc.).
From the animated public comments and editorial coverage, you might think Council voted to bulldoze 100,000 acres of forest instead of allocating $100 million to rural land preservation. The Greenbelt program’s success at achieving its goals, particularly in rural areas, makes all the controversy a little confusing.
By way of background, the Greenbelt Program was launched in 2005 with a goal of preserving 30% of Charleston County land as greenspace by 2030. Thanks to a combination of federal, state and local funds with private and philanthropic dollars, the 30% acreage preservation goal has been reached ahead of schedule.
The plan divides the goal for acreage protection into six project types. Total acreage protection in three of the six categories have exceeded goal, one is on pace and two are trailing.
The two categories most at risk of missing goal – urban greenbelt lands and greenway corridors – rely on the allocation of funds to urban areas. And, as Councilman Brantley Moody noted during discussion at the council meeting this week, they are also the kinds of land preservation projects that more Charleston County taxpayers will get to enjoy on a frequent basis.
Greenspace and access to nature for all residents are important regional assets and quality of life factors. The Charleston region has distinguished itself nationally with its incredible greenbelt conservation efforts. The decision by County Council to assess progress on the Greenbelt Programs goals and rework allocation rates to help achieve all of those goals clearly squares with the Chamber’s Sustainable Growth Ethic’s core values of balance and stewardship. The five members of council who advanced this vote forward – Darby, Pryor, Moody, Chairman Rawl and Summey – deserve our thanks for a wise decision.