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BRUCE SMITH with the Associated Press published an article in Myrtle Beach Sun News (Saturday, November 16, 2006) regarding the development around and preservation/protection of the famous 1400 year old Angel Oak Tree in the Johns Island area. The full article is pasted below:

“As growth creeps around the Angel Oak reputed to be 1,400 years old, plans for a new development of stores and homes will insure the future of both the ancient tree and a health center which has served Gullah residents of the sea islands for decades.

The 65-foot-high live oak, with a circumference of more than 25 feet, is the centerpiece of a small, 2-acre city park on rural Johns Island. The adjacent nonprofit Sea Island Health Care Corp. has provided everything from child care and low-income housing to health and nursing care since the civil rights era.

Sea Island had come on hard times in recent years but emerged bankruptcy a year ago when it sold 42 acres to the developer, Angel Oak Village LLC, for $3.5 million.

The developer agreed to treat the land gently and a conservation easement will create a buffer around the tiny park. The easement means that land can never be developed.

Then last summer, an additional agreement was reached allowing Sea Island to receive a portion of the profits from the development Angel Oak Village – a planned mixed-use community of multifamily homes and shops.

“I have been in the political arena for 30 years and I don’t know of any industry or development that has been gracious enough to do that,” said the Rev. McKinley Washington, a former state lawmaker who is president and chairman of the Sea Island board.

Buying the land helped put Sea Island on firm financial ground, said Robert DeMoura, a partner in Angel Oak Village.

“We felt now they are whole again, how do we make it so we can give something back to sea islands that effectively solidify their future?” he said.

“Like all nonprofit groups they operate on the edge,” he said, walking through the Angel Oak park. “What they are trying to do here on the barrier islands is a wonderful cause.”

He said it is too early to tell exactly how much the profit agreement will generate for Sea Island. But Washington said “it will be a cushion and assurance for the corporation.”

Gullahs, descended from African slaves, settled on the isolated sea islands and coastal marsh areas along the Southeast coast. The culture is known as Geechee in Florida and Georgia and Gullah in the Carolinas.

The oak, in a glen with small gift shop nearby, shades 17,000 square feet. Locals like to say it is the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi River.

Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said the city worked to protect both the tree and health center.

“Both are vitally important and both deserved protection and preservation,” he said.

Specifics of just what will be built in Angel Oak village will be worked out in the coming months. Initial plans allow for shops and 285 multifamily homes. Construction isn’t expected for a year or so.

The developers may also tie the park to other green spaces in the development through trails.

“We feel this is an opportunity to … effectively expand park and possibly incorporate some of the conservation land,” DeMoura said.

There was an initial debate over how wide the park buffer around the park should be.

“We were insistent that the development would not harm the Angel Oak but also not disturb the sense of peace and beauty you have standing under or near the Angel Oak,” Riley said.

The idea, the mayor said, is so visitors can enjoy the oak in the same way folks have done for centuries.

No one is exactly sure of the age of the Angel Oak, named for the family which owned it from colonial times through the middle of the last century.

You might have to cut the tree down to tell, but even then rot in the center of live oaks can make checking tree rings unreliable.

Fifteen years ago, the city acquired the oak for back taxes from its former owner who had estimated, based on a fallen limb, the tree to be 1,511 years old.

Although Charlestonians like a good story, experts say the tree is probably only a third of that. Charleston urban forester Danny Burbage has estimated the oak’s age at between 300 and 500 years.

As part of the plan the developers will use a hydrologist and arborist to make sure the development beyond the conservation buffers has no effect on the spreading oak.

“In the period of growth we are having in this region it is essential we don’t diminish natural treasures in the name of needed development,” Riley said.

On the Web:

Angel Oak Park: http://www.ci.charleston.sc.us/dept/content.aspx?nid1027

Sea Island Comprehensive Health Care Corporation: Healtghhttp://yp.bellsouth.com/sites/healthcare/index.html”

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