The 229-acre Pinckney Point tract in greater Bluffton has a colorful past as a working farm, hunting ground and peanut patch.
But with Beaufort County close to buying the land for $6.95 million, its future likely will include a public recreation area.
"There are a lot of different opportunities for it," county attorney Josh Gruber said. "Nothing is concrete, but we are starting to have discussions, now that we have been authorized to make the purchase."
For now, anyway, the round outcropping of land at the north end of Pinckney Colony Road will probably remain as is -- a mix of open fields and forest surrounded by the Okatie and Colleton rivers.
That's just fine with many Pinckney Colony residents, who for years fought a development introduced in 2005 that could have added dozens of boat slips and as many as 76 houses.
"We're overjoyed. Hallelujah," Pinckney Colony Neighborhood Association president Mark Peterson said of the county's acquisition.
During the late 2000s, as many as 250 residents packed public hearings about the development proposed by Florida-based Pinckney Point LLC. The proposal sparked years of litigation and divided neighbors, some of whom believed the longtime property owners would never sell, Peterson recalled.
Beaufort County was among those that fought the project, out of concern for the Okatie River, parts of which are closed to shellfishing and deemed impaired by the state.
In the end, however, Peterson says the poor economy was about the only thing that prevented developers from "building their little kingdom out there."
"We just flat out didn't want them here," Peterson said. "It's not because they were bad people. We just like our lifestyle out here, and 76 waterfront McMansions didn't fit in with that."
Mary Connor, whose Three Sisters Farm is off Pinckney Colony Road, said she's "thrilled" the county is finally able to buy the land.
"The county had attempted to negotiate the sale before it was sold to a private developer. We were very disappointed when that didn't go through," she said, describing the land as a "treasure."
Property records show the 229.18-acre tract is owned by Equity Research Partners III of Atlanta. For tax purposes, the county values the land at $9.5 million -- a nearly five-year-old value that almost certainly will be slashed after this year's property reassessment.
The county's $6.95 million purchase price comes to about $30,300 an acre to be paid for with Rural and Critical Lands program money approved by voters in a countywide referendum last year.
Gruber suggested Pinckney Point could serve as headquarters for a regional parks agency. It also could be the nexus of a marine kayak trail linking all protected lands around the Okatie and Colleton rivers. A network of hiking trails through the site is another option.
Possibilities for the site are virtually endless, said Patty Kennedy, director of the Beaufort County Open Land Trust, which handles the county's land- preservation deals.
"Pinckney Point could be the crown jewel of the Okatie/Colleton, connecting all protected properties to date, preserving a geographically unique landscape, and offering a central location from which to operate a regional conservation park complex," Kennedy said in a news release.
She added that it could become a "true eco-tourism attraction."