AWENDAW — Town Council gave a green light to plans for an ambitious, 300-acre park that could feature overnight camping, space for RVs, disc golf and an amphitheater.
But it’s unclear how the town will pay for it.
When asked how much it will cost, Town Project Manager Bill Wallace said “nobody knows.” The town hasn’t designed the amphitheater and activity center, among other things, he said.
“We have no idea how much it’s going to cost. But it will be in the millions of dollars, that’s for sure.” He said the town likely will need grants or a loan to make it all happen.
Representatives with SGA|NW, JHLA Design and Brandstetter Carroll Inc. presented plans for the park at a public hearing May 5. Tom O’Rourke, a recreation consultant with Brandstetter Carroll, said the plans were designed in a way that could easily be changed.
O’Rourke, former executive director of Charleston County Parks and Recreation, said residents often mentioned not wanting a recreation space that resembled James Island County Park, but instead favored a “passive park” that was natural for Awendaw.
At the public hearing, some residents expressed concerns about noise from the amphitheater, traffic and overnight camping.
Resident Karen Claussen said there has to be rules for when the music can be played in the amphitheater. She also wondered about policing the site when camping is allowed.
Ronald Ravenel, another resident who spoke at the hearing, said the park would provide recreation and social activities for residents in Awendaw so they wouldn’t have to travel to North Charleston, Mount Pleasant or Georgetown.
“I think this would be a detriment to our community if we do not accept and embrace this park,” Ravenel said. “And if we do this strategically, if we do this together, it will equal a great opportunity for our community.”
Awendaw Mayor Miriam C. Green said the St. James-Santee Elementary School has asked the town to do more for local children. Groups like scouts can use the park for camping, she said, and other groups have expressed interest.
“We’ve got to accommodate our town’s people,” Green said. “Everybody is not going to say ‘yes.’ Everybody is not going to say ‘no.’ But let’s compromise together and make it work.”
Town Council did not respond to questions or concerns from residents at the public hearing. The design consultants weren’t allowed to respond to the concerns during the hearing, either.
The council passed a resolution to approve plans for the park at a meeting that followed the public hearing. Councilman Frank Frazier voted against approval of the resolution. Councilwoman Sheila Powell and Councilman Rodney Porcher were absent.
Awendaw’s move represents a new chapter in a saga that began in 2009. That’s when Awendaw used $5.17 million in county Greenbelt funds to buy 290 acres off Doar Road.
Awendaw is home to 1,400 people and didn’t have the money to build a park. But there was interest in the region, including from Elliott Summey, owner of a sand mining company and son of longtime North Charleston mayor Keith Summey.
As a council member in 2009, Elliott Summey had voted to use Greenbelt funds to buy the property. About five years later, Summey’s company, Jackson Development, struck a deal with the town to excavate sand from the property and create a lake.
The deal called for Summey to spend $500,000 on the park’s construction and send the town royalties based on the sand and dirt Summey’s company sold. Awendaw hoped that royalty money would fund the construction of the new park.
But the town received far less money than it expected, just $150,000. Today, millions of dollars in sand and dirt are gone, and the town still has no solid plan to pay for what comes next.
Tony Bartelme contributed to this report from Charleston.