Governor signs bills limiting development on Jekyll Island to 1,675 acres
Bills replace old law limiting development to 35 percent of ground above average high tide mark
April 14, 2014
By By Terry Dickson
JEKYLL ISLAND | Gov. Nathan Bill signed two legislative bills Monday that ended decades of wrangling over development on the state-owned barrier island.
House Bill 715 and Senate Bill 296 did the same thing, they capped development on the island at 1,675 acres superseding an old state law that limited development to 35 percent of the high ground but set off 40 years of arguments on where the marsh ended and the uplands began.
Before Deal signed the bills, Jekyll Island Authority board chairman Richard Royal, a former legislator himself, said he had never seen two identical bills approved so quickly. Royal said it was due to the stakeholders on both sides making small compromises.
Deal called the bills historic and said he would sign both of them.
He also laid out the numbers in the bills noting that of the 78 acres that could be developed, only 20 acres would be for new residential projects, 12 acres would be used to expand the island campground and the rest for public projects. The authority said that could be trails, roads and infrastructure projects among other things.
Pierre Howard, president of the Georgia Conservancy, praised the bill and the compromise that made it possible.
“We came to a good place, I think,’’ Howard said. “This shows me people can still work together and get things done.”
Howard said although he new legislation solves the big issues, it won’t quiet all the debate.
“I think there are some other issues that remain to be resolved,’’ building heights for example, Howard said.
Those could be resolved on the board level, he said.
The past development limits had raised a furor statewide as the Jekyll Island Authority considered new maps in its master plan that added more acreage to the island and gave the authority more land to develop. The issue centered on 40-year-old law that limited development to 35 percent of the land above mean high tide, but the new maps designated marsh as high ground, critics said.
In the process of drawing up the master plan, the idea of a set acreage “evolved,’’ said Jones Hooks, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority.
“It’s very difficult to measure a barrier island,’’ Hooks said.
The idea that came out of master plan discussions resulted in the legislation Deal signed Monday under a beach front pavilion at Great Dunes park in front of an appreciative crowd.
David Egan, an island resident and co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, said the new development limit makes it easier on everyone.
But like Howard, he said there will be other issues.
“Now the question is what will be done with density and pricing,’’ he said of the future hotels and perhaps condominiums.
Of the 20 acres for residential development, Egan said, “Nobody knows what will be done with that. But that’s way down the road.”
Egan said he had looked up old news stories on Jekyll Island, and that through the years many had the same “Jekyll Island at the Crossroads’’ headline.
“Have we finally crossed the road?” he joked.
As for Howard, he said he’ll leave the lingering issues for another day.
“I’m going to walk on South Beach in a few minutes and celebrate,’’ he said.
Then he pointed out that if it were not for legislation pushed through by former state Sen. Jeff Chapman to protect the island’s south end, there could have been development there.
Terry Dickson: (912) 264-0405