Jekyll residents eye plans
The Brunswick News
July 20, 2009
Walking through the historic district on a recent morning, Jekyll Island residents David and Mindy Egan were greeted by visitors from Oklahoma who had stopped on the quaint island park for a brief vacation.
Looking around, the couple expressed to the Egans that their island home was unlike any beach resort they had ever visited. But when the tourists learned of the revitalization project planned for the state-park island, they voiced true concern.
"These visitors, they said Jekyll was the most beautiful place they had ever seen, that it was so peaceful," said Mindy Egan, vice president of the Jekyll Island Citizens Association and cofounder of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island. "When we gave them a fair rundown of what was planned to change, though, they said they might not want to come back. That was just heartbreaking to me."
Many citizens on Jekyll and Jekyll frequenters have fears that, should development alter the face of their island, it will do more damage than good, Mindy Egan said.
While the Egans agreed that the recently presented master plan from HHCP architecture firm was a breath of fresh air, they still had worries that congestion, traffic and over-development might create a Jekyll Island they don't recognize.
Island resident Frank Mirasola feels the same way. He worries that the plans the board has drawn up are far out of step with the character of the island. Jekyll has long held a reputation for being a natural retreat with steady but limited traffic and tourists, not a busy beach resort, he said.
"People come here because it is not that cookie cutter beach location," said Mirasola, past-president of the citizens association. "It is not that we do not want development. We just don't want as much development as they are calling for."
Although the plans have been tweaked and scaled back, some citizens of Jekyll Island continue to question the authority board and its model for revitalizing the place they call home.
Originally slated to be a $340 million investment, the private-public project was cut by one-third in October, to become a $120 million beach village. Since then, Eric Garvey, spokesman for the Jekyll Island Authority, says he has heard less negative feedback and witnessed an overwhelming acceptance of the new model for the village and town center.
"Since the revisions of the beach plan was approved, we have had extremely positive response from Jekyll citizens," Garvey said.
True, the Egans said, the new plans calls for a smaller project and is more in line with what the island residents had wanted. But nonetheless, the model, as now planned, could be a shock to guests.
"We're happy it was scaled back. But when they drive onto the island and see five and six story high-rises, it will freak people out," Mindy Egan said. "People do not come to Jekyll Island for a beach village. They don't come here to go shopping."
Should the plans be built as designed, citizens worry that the island will not be able to sustain that much growth. Traffic would become a nightmare and overcrowding would certainly be an issue, said David Egan.
Earlier this year, the authority board hired Bleakly Advisory Group consulting firm to conduct an impact study regarding such issues. That study found that the island could sustain the development and growth as currently planned, but some citizens question the land acreage used to find the island carrying capacity.
By law, only 35 percent of the state-park can be developed, with 65 percent remaining untouched. The advisory group failed to take this into consideration when they conducted the study, meaning that when development beyond the beach village comes to fruition, the limited space on the island will be filled to the brim, David Egan said.
"We have real concerns about the build out, and what they board is planning to do next," David Egan said.
Garvey, however, says that all the planned growth will take place in the footprint of already developed areas. There will be no new cleared spaces, he said.
"We can only build on 35 percent of the island, and we are not changing that," Garvey said.
Michael Chatham, vice president of HHCP, said the new plans may alter the face of the island and rework roadways, but it will not create new developed areas. All plans are in the footsteps of already developed ares, Chatham said.
In the past, island resident Gloria Zocchi had her reservations about how revitalization would play out. She saw that authority board members were not taking resident concerns to heart, and were trotting along by their own set agenda. After seeing the recently retooled plan, though, she said she feels that board members are letting down their guard and are working more with residents.
"The plan looks good, and they are hearing us a little more," Zocchi said. "But we still have worries about how all this traffic and parking will play out."
Beyond the beach village, island residents worry that the authority board has not given attention to the promised conservation plan.
"They are going about this in the wrong order," David Egan said. "We have been asking for months when will this conservation plan be ready. We are always told that it is a low priority."
The conservation plan is a "gigantic document and it takes time to get this worked out," Garvey said, adding that the plan is certainly a high priority.