A Commentary on The Brunswick News article, “Residents Question Findings”

The Jekyll Island Authority, in a Brunswick News February 14, 2009 article, reaffirmed its support for the findings of a study conducted by the Bleakly Advisory Group which, in projecting how housing and population density and traffic volume for the Jekyll of the future would compare to other coastal vacation sites, defined “Jekyll Island” as including thousands of acres of marshland along the entire length of the Jekyll Causeway and on the western perimeter of the island.  By relying on a square mileage figure provided by a U.S. Census Bureau Report which included over 5,000 acres of uninhabitable marshland, the Bleakly study increased Jekyll’s true size of 4,152 acres to 9,232 acres. This acreage increase allowed Bleakly to show that the forecasted doubling of the total number of Jekyll’s residences, condos and hotel rooms would place Jekyll on the low end of the density scale for housing and population per acre compared to other coastal vacation destinations.

However, when Jekyll’s real size is considered, the “built-out” Jekyll would actually rank on the high end of the end of the density scale. And, when the fact that development on Jekyll is limited to 35 percent of the island—just 1,453 acres—is taken into account, the new Jekyll would rank at the very top of the scale with regard to population, housing and lodging density and traffic volume.  

Without even crunching Bleakly’s numbers, it is safe to say that none of the 9 coastal resorts that Bleakly selected is comparable to Jekyll Island, since only Jekyll is subject to a State law mandating that development be restricted to just 35 percent of the island.  In other words, the 4,100 housing and lodging units that are forecasted for the new Jekyll will be located on an area that is more than 80 percent smaller than the 9,232 acre “Jekyll Island” cited in the Bleakly study. This indisputable fact makes Bleakly’s conclusion that the revitalization of Jekyll Island will have little impact on the island’s overall character meaningless.

In defending the Bleakly study, JIA spokesman and business manager Eric Garvey told the Brunswick News that “The point of the study was to give context and to use a standard approach. We wanted to see what the island would feel like after revitalization. We are still satisfied with the results.” Well, in view of Jekyll’s actual developable acreage and the density levels that will result from the forecasted build-out, the JIA’s “satisfaction” with the Bleakly study is truly hard to understand.

Also hard to understand is how Mr. Garvey, who is known for his concern for accuracy, has acquired some misinformation about Jekyll’s redevelopment.  He says that the planned revitalization projects will be constructed in the footsteps of buildings that either already exist or did at one point in time, yet the Linger Longer town center project will add a combination of over 500 time-shares and hotel rooms on land that has no such “footsteps.” He says that all the JIA wants to do is “to get the island back where it was,”  yet the Authority’s own figures show that the new Jekyll is projected to have 60 percent more residences and lodging units than the island park ever had back in its heyday in the early 1990s.

Having polled more than 10,000 Jekyll visitors over the past two years, IPJI can safely say that there is widespread support for responsible Park renovations and for returning visitation to its all-time high, and beyond, so as to provide the JIA with the revenue needed for Park operations, maintenance and improvements. Hardly anyone, however, wants to see Jekyll’s unique character and personality sacrificed along the way, which, despite Bleakly’s rosy scenario, may be the case if Jekyll’s forecasted full build-out takes place.

Residents question findings

The Brunswick News
February 14, 2009

Jekyll Island residents and an environmentalist are questioning a recent study that examines the impact of building at the state park.

Island residents David and Mindy Egan and the Center for a Sustainable Coast are challenging the accuracy of the study conducted by the Bleakly Advisory Group, claiming it used inaccurate and misleading numbers.

The Atlanta-based firm released an impact forecast study Monday, predicting that the overall characteristics of Jekyll will not be drastically altered from the planned island developments.

Through the study, the group attempted to analyze how the island may look 25 years from now should the revitalization efforts bring about a peak annual visitation of the 2.65 million tourists. That number is similar to the peak visitation the island experienced in the late 1980s, said Gary Mongeon, vice president of the firm.

In the forecast, which compared Jekyll with nine other similar Southeastern islands, including St. Simons and Tybee islands, Mongeon estimated that the state park would need to incorporate 4,100 hotels rooms and 112,000 square feet of commercial and retail space by 2023. Should those figures be reached, Mongeon found that the island will not look too different than it does today in terms of traffic flow, housing units and lodging, as well as impacts to population density, both seasonally and year-round.

The study also asserted that, even after those entities were added to the island, Jekyll would remain in the low to mid range as far as density and visitation when compared to the other islands, Mongeon said.

"Jekyll Island will compare favorably in comparison to these other nine island after revitalization," Mongeon said.

The Egans question the accuracy of the formula Mongeon's team used to reach its conclusion.

To calculate the density of the state-owed island, the firm used U.S. Census Bureau data, which states that the island is made up of 9,232 acres. Though that figure is correct, it also includes marsh land and the Jekyll Island Causeway, areas that are not suitable for development.

"You can't build on a marsh. It's water," David Egan said.

By state law, only 35 percent of the island's land can be developed, with 65 percent preserved from development. The allowable acreage for development is 4,152 acres, as cited in January in a land capacity study by Thomas and Hutton Engineering Co., a Brunswick-based firm. When applying that number to the effects of development, the outlook for growth impacts on the island is severely altered, Mindy Egan said.
"If you are using the acreage that can be developed, put the retail and housing in that space of 4,000 acres, the density of the island looks drastically different," Egan said. "It's a huge difference."

David Kyler, executive director for the Center for a Sustainable Coast, voiced similar concerns. Why, Kyler asks, was such a large land mass used in the forecast, when much of the land is not suitable for development?

"This is a caviler treatment of the 65/35 law," Kyler said. "I wonder if such a broad-brush approach lends any real insight to the development and density on the island."

The study was not meant to be a hard and fast explanation of the carrying capacity of the island decades from now. Instead, it was meant to paint a picture of the island's personality after revitalization occurs, said Eric Garvey, spokesman for the Jekyll Island Authority. In applying census data for the study, the Bleakly Group was aiming to use standard information for comparison purposes. Just as Jekyll Island does, each island studied alongside the state park posses its own unique set of attributes that could not be identified in or calculated into the study, Garvey said.

"The point of the study was to give context and to use a standard approach," Garvey said. "We wanted to see what the island would feel like after revitalization. We are still satisfied with the results."

After all, Garvey explained, the planned revitalization projects will be constructed in the footsteps of buildings that either already exist or did at one point in time. Remodeling the island is not about changing its personality, but is merely an attempt to bring the island back to its glory days, he said.

"We want to get the island back where it was," Garvey said. "People loved Jekyll Island and we are working to bring that back. The island carried all these people and developments once and it can do it again."