South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

SCELP Secures Settlement to Protect Angel Oak
Posted: January 31, 2014

SCELP is pleased to announce that the years-long fight over the proposed development adjacent to the majestic Angel Oak has been resolved. This resolution provides many important protections for the Angel Oak tree, and it would have been impossible without the energetic work and cooperation of the Coastal Conservation League, Save the Angel Oak and many passionate individuals.

The initial proposal for development in the shadow of South Carolina’s oldest, most famous, most honored, and most visited tree was truly appalling. On the 42 acre site adjacent to the Angel Oak, the developer proposed to build 630 residential units; to build 80,000 sq. ft. of retail, including big box retail; to fill 5.42 acres of the 6.46 wetland acres onsite; and to provide almost no buffer around the Angel Oak. Through the concerted efforts of many over several years, this proposal was gradually chipped down. The fight culminated in a case filed by SCELP in the Administrative Law Court, which eventually prompted the beneficial settlement.

The overriding goal of everyone involved in the opposition to this project was for the development to be tailored to match the unique community of Johns Island and to account for its unique proximity to this treasured natural landmark. While the nature of compromise is not getting every single thing you want, we believe that the settlement accomplishes that goal.

The main feature of the settlement is that one-half of the 42 acre site — the so-called Phase 2 of development — is set aside to be purchased by the Lowcountry Open Land Trust. In addition, all commercial development has been eliminated from the project, and the density of the residential development has been reduced, with 274 total residential units. The total wetland fill has been reduced from 5.42 acres to 2.23 acres. Specific to the Angel Oak, the development will have a minimum 300 foot buffer from the tree, and Angel Oak Park has been expanded by 6.5 acres (from 2.2 to 8.7). We believe that this settlement is a victory for anyone who believes that the Angel Oak has a value for future generations that exceeds short-term development profits.

During SCELP's trial of this case, we presented expert witnesses who expressed their opinion that the proposed development would impact the roots, hydrology and overall health of the Angel Oak, shortening the tree's remaining life. We are happy to have reached this cooperative settlement that aims to avoid these impacts to one of our State's truly special places.