Beaufort County, through its Rural and Critical Lands Program, has brought a fitting end to the saga of a controversial development in the northern part of the county.
County Council put its money -- $2.5 million -- where its mouth is and bought the right to say what happens with the 1,317 acres on the Pocataligo River known as Bindon Plantation.
In 2006, the town of Yemassee tied the county's hands with a shoestring annexation of the property.
By annexing a 20-foot-wide, 2-mile-long strip, the town brought the property under its control and promptly quadrupled the number of homes that could be built in the environmentally sensitive area. It also allowed 450,000 square feet of commercial space that otherwise could not be built.
Negative impacts of the development -- the need for schools and roads, for example -- would be borne by Beaufort County, not Yemassee, a story we had seen play out with annexations in other parts of the county. The development plan also was at odds with Beaufort County's long-term plan for the area, which included saving taxpayers money by not encouraging development in areas that are remote and inefficient to serve and protecting historic and environmentally sensitive landscapes from incompatible development.
Two lawsuits challenging Yemassee's annexation of Bindon Plantation failed on technical grounds; the merits of how the annexation was accomplished were never argued. Those trying to stop the annexation included several Yemassee residents, the Coastal Conservation League and the state Attorney General's Office.
Fortunately, for Beaufort County's planning purposes, the development never got off the ground.
With the conservation easements to be put on the property, development now will be limited to 20 homes, a far cry from the 1,300 homes approved by Yemassee and even the 330 homes that would have been allowed under county zoning in 2006.
Garrett Budds, conservation director for the Beaufort County Open Land Trust, points out that the Bindon Plantation area is a gateway to Beaufort County and the ACE Basin, a 350,000-acre estuarine preserve between Beaufort and Charleston. With the Bindon Plantation property now in conservation, it effectively expands the preserve by 1,317 acres.
One of the good things about conservation purchases is that both the buyer and the seller gain from the transaction, and the property owners are willing participants.
Jim Terry, president of Hollingsworth Funds, Bindon Plantation's owner, said, "The conservation easement allows us to preserve this property, rich in history and natural significance. It also allows us to create additional value and return for our beneficiaries through a responsible ... plan."
Bindon Plantation is a testament to the value of having a preservation program in place, ready to respond should the need arise.