Where to grow from here? The importance of preserving land in the Lowcountry

BEAUFORT, Sc. (WSAV) – The Lowcountry is one of the fastest growing areas on the East Coast, many people are moving  in for the trees and open land, which has posed an issue as the area starts to develop. That’s why local conservation groups are stressing the importance of preserving open land.

“As more people are attracted to move our region, we need to protect open space to protect our quality of life and also protect what attracts so many people to this place in general,” said Kate Schaefer with the Coastal Conservation League.

She says there are areas for growth and areas that should be preserved.

“Beaufort County has had a success of developing where we already have a built environment footprint, a built in area, Old Town Bluffton, Downtown Beaufort,” Schaefer said, “But add in the tool of conservation easements and protected open space and we can better ensure that our built environment doesn’t bleed into the countryside.”

Last year, residents fought the redevelopment of  Hilton Head National, protesting a mini city within Bluffton. Ultimately the county denied the company’s request to rezone, stating holes in the plan like traffic, storm water, and density.

“That’s part of the debate that we’re having here as a growing region,” Schaefer  said, “Where do we grow from here?”

The county outlines growth in their future land use plan including areas for parks, residents, and preservation.

Since 1999, tax payers have helped fund $135 million dollars into Beaufort County’s Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program.

“The results you see of land conservation: you see beautiful views, we have beaches available, we have public trails, we have biking trails, we have the Spanish Moss trail,” said Barbara Holmes, director of land protection for Beaufort Public Land Trust, “It’s difficult for people to actually put a price on what that is worth.”

But a new study by the Trust for Public Land was able to do just that.

“Property value increase, storm water, the value of storm water infiltration, air pollution removal, how it attracts tourist to the county,” Holmes said.

The study found protected areas raise property values by $127 million dollars, reduce air pollution control costs by $300,000 dollars, add millions in savings spent on medical health by giving people space to be active, and when it comes to storm surge, from rain or hurricanes–$27 million dollars.

“The amount of water that runs off of our protected properties into our streams, marshes, and rivers, is lessened because the property is protected, versus the amount of water that runs off our built environment like a parking lot,” Schaefer said.

The Trust for Public Land presented their numbers to Beaufort County Council Monday night. Council plans go over their Community Development Code with hopes of getting cities and the county on the same page for land preservation.

The Trust for Public Land also plans to present their findings to the public, dates and times are pending.

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