Lowcountry Land Trust’s mission is to protect the Lowcountry’s land and water, and we do it most often through voluntary agreements with landowners. Those voluntary agreements between Lowcountry Land Trust and landowners reflect an effort to balance the conservation of natural resources and the well-being of the land’s human inhabitants. In the case of the Sullivan’s Island deed restrictions held by LLT, the voluntary agreement is embodied in a set of deed restrictions that were established in 1991.
The role Lowcountry Land Trust plays in the accreted land, and the limitations on Lowcountry Land Trust’s role, are entirely dictated—and limited—by the provisions of the deed restrictions. Under the deed restrictions, if the Town were proposing to construct a building on the accreted land, Lowcountry Land Trust would have every right, by way of those deed restrictions, to deem that a violation. However, the deed restrictions give Lowcountry Land Trust a very different role in the Town’s decisions on vegetation management.
When it comes to Town decisions on how to manage vegetation on the accreted land, the deed restrictions do not give the Lowcountry Land Trust the right to substitute its judgment for that of the Town and its stakeholders. That is a decision for them to make—the Town government and the people who can hold it accountable.
When it comes to vegetation management, there is only one pre-condition in the deed restrictions that Lowcountry Land Trust is called on to referee. And that is that prior to taking action, the Council must make the findings of fact specifically required by the deed restrictions. If they do that, then Lowcountry Land Trust has no right to call the action a violation—even if Lowcountry Land Trust would have made a different choice had it been the landowner.
One point that should be known by all Sullivan’s Island stakeholders: the deed restrictions give “any property owner within the Town, or . . . any voter registered within the Town,” the right to enforce them. That means that every person within either of those categories has just as much right as anyone else to enforce the deed restrictions, as they see fit. Property owners and voters can seek “any appropriate remedy” for an action they deem to be a violation.
Lowcountry Land Trust understands that the Town and its stakeholders have a challenging task in coming to decision on managing vegetation on the accreted land. The land trust is fulfilling the role assigned to it by the deed restrictions. The Town’s government, voters and landowners are the appropriate parties to make the determination of how to balance the interests of nature and people.