A limited liability corporation has bought and will preserve 1,200 acres of prime coastal real estate near Pawleys Island that had been marketed by a University of South Carolina foundation for possible development, according to a news release Saturday.
The corporation, PG Preservation LLC, closed a deal to acquire the Prince George Tract property Friday, said Cheryl Smithem, a Charleston public relations executive working with the purchaser.
The land is one of the last remaining large parcels of undeveloped real estate on the east side of U.S. 17 near Pawleys Island and Litchfield Beach, an increasingly popular resort area between Georgetown and Myrtle Beach.
Smithem would not disclose the name or names of those associated with PG Preservation, saying the buyers are modest and want “to stay out of the public spotlight.” She did not disclose the price.
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“The buyer is a conservation minded individual who wanted to preserve the property,” Smithem told The State newspaper Saturday. “I know the buyer wanted to place conservation easements on it.”
Coastal real estate agent Phillip Lammonds, who helped broker the deal, also declined to name those associated with PG Preservation, but confirmed Saturday that the property was acquired from the USC Development Foundation.
The foundation drew fire in 2013, when it said it would place the Prince George property on the market for sale – even though the 1,200 acres had originally been envisioned for conservation and scientific research.
The idea in 2013 was to sell the land for development of high end homes on large lots, with some of the property preserved as part of such a development. Foundation officials said selling the property would help USC raise revenue at a time of dwindling funds.
Critics, including the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, were livid. They said the foundation was reneging on its commitment to conservation.
Russ Meekins, director of foundations at USC, was not immediately available Saturday.
Nancy Cave, the S.C. Coastal Conservation League’s north coast director, said she’s glad to hear about the land preservation announcement, but said she would like more details to make sure the agreement will protect the property from development.
“If it truly is a conservation buyer, I think it is great news,” Cave said. “That is what we were looking for, somebody who was committed to being a conservation buyer. I just hope .... this is not some developer.”
The undeveloped tract is just up the coast from the North Inlet research area, an almost pristine system of marshes and tidal creeks where USC has its 17,500-acre Baruch Marine Field Laboratory.
Prince George is full of wildlife and is home to the once-abundant long-leaf pine, a majestic evergreen. Among other things, the property provides habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker, federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. Much of the land is wetlands.
The Prince George property was owned for decades by the Vanderbilt family, but was sold in the mid-1980s for development. Plans for a condo complex fell through when developers ran into financial problems. The federal government later took control of the then-1900-acre tract and sold it to the development foundation.
A private development group put up the $10.5 million for the foundation to acquire the land. In return, the development group kept about 600 of the 1,900 acres. Part of the 600 acres later was developed into a small resort community, some touching the beachfront between Pawleys Island and Debordieu.
Smithem’s news release said that PG Preservation was formed to acquire and protect “in perpetuity the environmentally sensitive tract.” The release said less than 55 percent of the tract is now protected by conservation easements, but PG Preservation intends to place the entire property under a conservation easement.
“The acquisition of the Prince George Tract allows PG Preservation to ensure that more than 1,200 acres of pristine wetlands, forestland and wildlife habitat in the North Inlet estuary watershed are conserved in perpetuity,” Smithem said in the release.
Lammonds said the sale is significant and important to conservation.
“If there is one thing the owner is absolutely committed to, that is conserving the property,” he said. “The sense that it will be conserved in perpetuity makes a pretty big statement and is significant to conservation and green space.”