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A 1,317-acre property in northern Beaufort County that was nearly developed during the housing boom has been set aside for conservation.
Beaufort County Council on Monday allocated $2.5 million for a conservation easement on the Bindon Plantation property, which runs along the Pocotaligo River in Sheldon. Future development on the site will be limited to 20 homes.
"It's a huge conservation win and from an environmental perspective maintains the ... landscape of northern Beaufort County and prevents what is truly an incompatible development for that area," said Garrett Budds, conservation director for the Beaufort County Open Land Trust.
The trust manages much of the nearly 20,000 acres of conservation land either bought or protected by the county's Rural and Critical Lands program. Funding for the program has come largely from borrowing approved by county voters over the years.
The Bindon Plantation easement ends a tumultuous decade for the property, which was sold to developers and later annexed by Yemassee.
Yemassee allowed construction of up to 1,300 homes and 450,000 square feet of commercial space.
The project fizzled during a three-year legal battle over Yemassee's decision to annex the property. Beaufort County was among the parties that sued to challenge the annexation.
By the time the S.C. Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit last year, the housing market had crashed. The current owner, Greenville-based Hollingsworth Funds, reclaimed the property after the developer defaulted on the loan.
Beaufort County initially considered buying the property in the early 2000s but the price tag was too high, said Josh Gruber, Beaufort County's attorney. But after the housing and retail development fell through, Hollingsworth Funds approached the county about selling a conservation easement, he said.
Jim Terry, president of Hollingsworth Funds, said the agreement works for all parties.
"The conservation easement allows us to preserve this property, rich in history and natural significance," he said in a statement. "It also allows us to create additional value and return for our beneficiaries through a responsible ... plan."
The property is considered a gateway both to Beaufort County and the A.C.E. Basin, a Natural Estuarine Research Reserve with one of the most biodiverse landscapes in South Carolina, Budds said. With the land now in conservation, it essentially expands that reserve by 1,317 acres.
The property is also the site of a Revolutionary War fort and a bald eagle habitat.
Under the agreement, Hollingsworth Funds, maintains ownership of the land. Rules restricting development on the site will never expire.
Although the transaction is not final yet, both parties have signed letters of intent. While he did not disclose a specific date, Gruber said the agreement should close soon.