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The $1.5 million purchase of about 98 wooded acres will prevent the construction of commercial space and hundreds of homes near the Okatie River, Beaufort County officials say.
County Council approved the purchase of the Okatie Marsh tract, which had plans for 400 homes and 65,000 square feet of commercial space, after a closed-door discussion Monday.
The section of the river where the land sits has been damaged by stormwater runoff, and the preservation of the property will help prevent more damage, according to Garrett Budds, conservation director for the Beaufort County Open Land Trust.
"To purchase this amount of acreage and protect it -- (at) this remarkable price point -- really represents a huge win for the river," he said.
The tract is sandwiched between S.C. 170 and the river, just south of Oldfield. BB&T bank, which sold the property to the county, had foreclosed on it. The land is valued by the county at $3.96 million.
Funding came from the county's Rural and Critical Lands conservation program, which has about $3.8 million left from the $50 million bond voters approved in 2006.
Voters will be asked in a referendum Nov. 6 to approve $25 million in new borrowing for the program.
Okatie Marsh was part of the controversial Okatie Village development, which received county approval for more than 1,000 homes in four planned communities near the river.
That project, proposed after the housing market started declining, spurred a debate over the role and cost of impact fees the county charges developers for homes in "planned unit developments."
The county charges $5,482 for each home built in these developments, and the proceeds are used to offset higher use of infrastructure and other services.
County Council Chairman Weston Newton, who did not support PUD zoning on the tract nearly four years ago, described the purchase as a "fantastic opportunity" at "a bargain price."
"Protecting the lands and waterways of Beaufort County not only secures habitats for natural wildlife, but it's paramount for the future of Beaufort County residents," he said in a statement, noting that the county paid about $15,500 per acre.
Over the past few months, County Council has considered several land acquisitions along the Okatie, which was deemed "impaired" by the state and was closed to shellfishing in 1995.
Council agreed in August to buy as much as 65 acres of marsh, wetland and forest along the Okatie's headwaters south of U.S. 278. Preliminary plans call for creating a park on this tract and another adjacent parcel.
Last month, council rejected the Graves family's latest proposal to purchase 18 acres and preserve 10 more on the Okatie's eastern shore for about $10.5 million.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.