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Conservation group purchases Greenwood tract

Will resell to state to preserve for public use

Posted: December 19, 2013 5:33 p.m.
Updated: December 20, 2013 5:00 a.m.

A more than 10-year-old dream of State Sen. Vincent Sheheen’s is coming true.

Greenwood Communities and Resorts Inc., recently sold more than 3,500 acres of land known as Liberty Hill Farms to a Maryland non-profit conservation group for $9.187 million. The Conservation Fund, founded in 1985 and actually headquartered in Arlington, Va., purchased the property Nov. 20, according to a deed recorded at the Kershaw County Courthouse on Dec. 10.

Sheheen said The Conservation Fund will ultimately re-sell the property to the state of South Carolina to be preserved -- undeveloped -- in perpetuity.

“This has been a dream of mine for a decade,” Sheheen said during a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “It’s very satisfying.”

Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter was the first to confirm the purchase Thursday, saying Sheheen deserves the credit for making the deal a reality.

“The county was peripherally involved and has been supportive of it,” Carpenter said.

Sheheen said while preserving the large tract -- split approximately 50/50 between Kershaw and Lancaster counties on Lake Wateree -- has been a decade-long dream, he began working with a “wide variety” of partners on this specific deal about a year and a half ago. The state senator, who is running for governor, said he presented the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism with a similar plan in 2002.

“They were interested in preserving the land in perpetuity for the people of South Carolina,” Sheheen said of The Conservation Fund. “I’m very excited to make progress in preserving this land for future generations.”

Sheheen said the land will be managed for public use, to possibly include hiking, camping and other outdoor uses. He said those decisions will be made over time.

Greenwood Development Corp., of which Greenwood Communities and Resorts Inc. is a part, first announced its intentions to develop Liberty Hill Farms in 2006 as a “low density community with 15- to 50-acre home sites” with a little more than 1,000 acres held as a permanent conservation area.

In late 2010, as the economy dragged on Greenwood’s plans, the company announced it was putting the entire 3,500-acre site up for sale at a price of $5,000 per acre -- the equivalent of about $17.5 million. Greenwood also said it was willing to sell the land in seven tracts of between 217 to 854 acres each, ranging between $2 million and $3.6 million apiece. Approximately 1,478 acres of the property are in Kershaw County, with 1,974 acres in Lancaster County. Greenwood originally purchased the property from Crescent Resources in 2006 for $28.6 million.

Now, the entire site is being purchased and preserved for a little more than $9 million.

“This is the best use for the property,” Sheheen said. “It’s best for water quality, and it’ll preserve it so our kids and grandkids can enjoy it.”

Sheheen described The Conservation Fund as a “bridge entity.”

“In anticipation of selling it to the state … they come in to make it’s not developed,” he said.

Jason Johnson, The Conservation Fund’s South Carolina director, said the group will be transferring the property to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in phases during the next year to year and a half.

“The first phase -- we would like that to happen in the next month or two,” Johnson said, indicating the first portion would be 1,628 acres of the property located in Lancaster County; subsequent transfers would include property in Kershaw County as well.

Johnson said DNR plans to include the first tract in its wildlife management program in order to provide public access to “everyone in the area.”

He said he is personally excited about the project in part because he lives in Lancaster County in Indian Lane.

“I’m also excited about the impact the purchase will have on folks on the lake, not just in Kershaw and Lancaster counties, but in Fairfield County on the opposite side of the lake,” Johnson said.

He pointed out that people living along the lake in Fairfield County will be able to look across the lake and continue to see undeveloped land, as they are used to do doing now.

“The Conservation Fund is excited to be a part of the Liberty Hill project for many reasons,” Johnson said. The property protects 3,452 acres along Lake Wateree, leaving approximately 14 miles of lake frontage untouched. This will protect the property into the future providing public access, protecting the wildlife habitat and assuring the view from the lake and Lake Wateree State Park remains unchanged.

“It’s an interesting property, to be on a major lake as it is and to be as remote as it is. It’s in the right place at the right time to make something happen and we’re happy to be part of such a great project.”

Johnson said various individuals as well as DNR contacted The Conservation Fund in 2011 regarding the potential sale.

“The Fund works with our partners to identify opportunities for significant conservation outcomes, and we have a long relationship with DNR for land acquisition,” he said. “When they identified the property as a priority, we began studying the feasibility of purchasing the property. The Conservation Fund has worked with DNR for the past 20 years to protect other beloved lands lake Bonneau Ferry, Woodbury and Jocassee Gorge.”

Johnson said The Conservation Fund is one of the country’s “most effective” conservation organizations.

“(We) combine a passion for conservation with an entrepreneurial spirit to protect your favorite places before they become just a memory. A hallmark of our work is our deep, unwavering understanding that for conservation solutions to last, they need to make economic sense,” he said, adding that the organization has protected more than 7 million acres of land across the U.S.

Sheheen’s district encompasses portions of Kershaw and Lancaster counties. Johnson said that since the first tract it is selling to DNR is in Lancaster County, they approached the Lancaster legislative delegation and Lancaster County Council.

“The folks were in unanimous support,” he said.

Sheheen said the state will likely use funds from the State Conservation Bank to make the purchases. The senator helped create the Bank when he was first elected to the General Assembly as a representative.

Carpenter said he is glad to see the deal go through because of its benefits to Kershaw County.

“It further guarantees Lake Wateree as a unique place to visit,” Carpenter said, adding that he believes water quality will be improved. “If it wasn’t going to be developed … this is the best alternative.

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