Georgia Times - Union Articles - 2008

Jekyll Income Figures Misleading

Jekyll Development Plan Faces Setback

Cagle Buries Measure to Save Jekyll's Shores

Jekyll Developer Drops Beach Plan

JIA Questions Leases

New Hotel on tap for Jekyll

Jekyll Dims Lights for Turtles

Jekyll Island Development: The Financial Justification

Jekyll income figures misled, Chapman says

The Times-Union
By Brandon Larrabee
February 27, 2008

ATLANTA - Numbers used by the Jekyll Island Authority to justify a major overhaul of the state park's creaking tourist infrastructure are overblown, a state senator critical of the authority's plans charged Tuesday.

Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, released numbers he said shows the Jekyll Island Authority low-balled its revenue figures to the tune of $11.3 million over the past 11 years. He also said the authority used inaccurate numbers on visitation, creating the impression of an implosion of the island's status as a tourist destination.

That fueled the desire for an overhaul of the island along the lines of a $352 million development planned by Linger Longer Communities, developer of the posh Reynolds Plantation resort on Lake Oconee.

Chapman supports some redevelopment of hotels on Jekyll but opposes the Linger Longer plan, fearing it would undermine the island's traditional role as an affordable getaway for middle-class Georgians.

"They've ignored the affordability aspect, and it's all in the name of revenue problems and visitation problems," he said.

Eric Garvey, a spokesman for the authority, said Tuesday the authority is not prepared to respond to the numbers, but believes Chapman's assertions are the result of a misunderstanding.

Chapman got his revenue figures by comparing the numbers in the authority's annual report with the numbers kept by state auditors. For example, Chapman said the authority reported a loss of $210,575 in 2006 but actually turned a profit of almost $2 million.

"It would lead people to believe that they're in financial straits, and that's just not accurate," Chapman said.
A reported drop of 1.5 million visitors to the island between 1996 and 1997 is also problematic, Chapman said, and more likely indicates a change in the way the authority measures who is coming onto the island.
While the official visitation numbers dropped dramatically, parking fees and room nights didn't show as big a swing.

Chapman said the new numbers raise questions about the authority's oversight of the island.

"Regardless of the fact that they're an appointed authority, they should work diligently to be accurate and true in their statements," he said.

Authority Chairman Ben Porter referred questions on the specific numbers to a full-time employee of the staff, who did not respond to attempts to reach him. But Porter rejected any notion that visitation at Jekyll hasn't dropped.

"It absolutely has," Porter said.

David Egan, head of the grass-roots Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, defended Chapman's number. Egan's group also opposes the Linger Longer development plan.

"It looks like the situation's been exaggerated in the figures significantly," he said.

Like Chapman, Egan noted that the authority's numbers were sent to Linger Longer and other developers who applied for the right to handle the redevelopment of the island. He said that might have distorted the proposals by making Jekyll's problems seem more severe than they were.

"When the figures are out of whack, the projected development is out of whack, too," Egan said., (678) 977-3709

Jekyll defense now up to Plan B

The Times-Union
March 22, 2008
Times-Union correspondent

JEKYLL ISLAND - Two days before a House committee voted to ban development along Jekyll Island's main beach, a state agency delineated a large portion of the same area as an environmentally sensitive zone.

With the ban standing little chance of passage, laws designed to protect sensitive dunes inside that zone may be conservationists' best recourse in curbing development along the beach.

While Linger Longer Communities, Jekyll Island's development partner, said it can make design changes to meet the environmental standards and permit requirements, conservation groups say it's going to be tougher than they think.

The state Department of Natural Resources' survey showed nearly half of Jekyll's proposed beachfront village will fall within Georgia Shore Protection Act jurisdiction. The Jekyll Island Authority, the island's governing body, had anticipated portions of the development would be affected and had requested the survey in January.

"We take our charge to protect the unique and unspoiled beaches of Jekyll Island very seriously," authority board Chairman Ben Porter said in a statement released Tuesday.

Georgia's Shore Protection Act restricts construction on the landward side of dunes in order to protect the natural flow of the sand that maintains them. The dune system, in turn, protects people and property from storm surges and erosion, said Susan Shipman, director of the DNR's Coastal Resources Division.

To determine the area that falls within the act's jurisdiction, survey crews find the first trees 20 feet and taller west of the dunes and then draw lines between them. Anything on the ocean side of the resulting line is considered to be under the Shore Protection Act. In order to be granted construction permits, buildings within the jurisdictional area must be hurricane resistant and a third of the land must remain in a natural state, Shipman has said.

An official from developer Linger Longer Communities says the company is taking the news of the jurisdiction line in stride.

"We know this is just part of working on the coast," said Jim Langford, project executive for Linger Longer. "We had already planned some significant changes [to our proposed design] based on public input. We are comfortable working with the Shore Protection recommendations and will take the jurisdiction line into account."

Langford said part of the beach village's convention center hotel site, part of the retail district, condominiums and time-share units will be affected by the Shore Protection delineation. He believes his company can accommodate the one-third no-build restriction, because the overall development incorporates 40 percent green space already.

"It might mean moving things around a little bit. It might mean setting things back from the beach," he said.

David Egan of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, a grass-roots group advocating restrained development on Jekyll, noted the restrictions will affect one of the densest portions of the Linger Longer development.

Much of the beach village's proposed green space was planned for the island interior, not the beach, he said.

Egan says the Jekyll Island Authority did developers no favor by choosing a beachfront parcel for development.

"What did they expect they would put there, a park?" he said. "A developer is going to put hotels and condos to maximize their profit. You can't blame them for doing that."

Officials with Center for a Sustainable Coast, an environmental watchdog group, agree that Linger Longer will need to change its design to comply with Shore Protection requirements.

"You have hardened structures, houses, walls and condominiums in a highly erodeable area," said Wesley Woolf, managing director of the organization. "That's not a smart business decision and it's not a smart natural resource preservation decision."

David Kyler, executive director for Center for a Sustainable Coast, says the requirement to protect shoreline areas within the act's jurisdiction is more complex than a simple one-third no-build requirement.

"The DNR has a responsibility to protect the dunes. They can require two-thirds or more if they believe there will be an impact to the sand sharing system," he said.

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Cagle buries measure to save Jekyll’s shores
Amendment would have limited construction on island's beaches

The Times-Union
By Brandon Larrabee
Morris News Service
April 1, 2008
Hopes for legislation shielding a half-mile of open beach from new construction crumbled Monday after Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle swatted down the latest attempt to protect the swath of sand.

Cagle ruled that an amendment that would restrict construction on the island's shoreline could not be added to a bill on dock-building. The ruling killed the measure without a vote by the upper chamber.

It marked the latest in a series of setbacks to island residents and visitors, many of whom want to see Jekyll's sagging tourist infrastructure repaired but oppose a planned $352 million revitalization project.

"Once again, the people of Georgia have not had an opportunity through their elected officials to express their concerns about Jekyll Island's open beach," said Dory Ingram, a volunteer lobbyist for the grass-roots Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island.

Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, proposed the amendment as the docks bill reached the Senate floor, site of the first legislative victory last year, when critics of dramatic redevelopment of Jekyll won protections for the island's south end.

On Monday, Chapman pushed back against claims by the Jekyll Island Authority and Linger Longer, the authority's private partner in the redevelopment plan, that his efforts would endanger the effort to renew tourists' interest in the island.

"This will not kill the rebuilding of Jekyll," he said.

But Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, said the amendment wasn't close enough in subject matter to House Bill 68, which would allow as many as four neighbors to build a single dock on coastal marshlands without requiring the extra permit needed to build a commercial dock.

"One is in regards to docks and (the amendment) is in regards to building on the shore," Williams said.

Meanwhile, time is running out on a separate measure, amended in committee to include protections for the island, currently sitting in the House Rules Committee.

That bill would remove the expiration date for a coastal protection measure that opens the door for federal funding. That law is set to expire July 1, 2009.

Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, said Monday that he would likely request that the House Rules Committee send the bill to the full House.

Tolleson suggested he wouldn't ask for the Jekyll amendments to be stripped from the bill.

"I'll leave that to the will of the House," he said.

Brandon Larrabee can be reached at or (678) 977-3709.

Jekyll developer, agency drop beach plans

The Times - Union

By Brandon Larrabee | Morris News Service
Thursday, April 03, 2008

ATLANTA --- Facing mounting public outrage over plans to place hotels and condominiums along a half-mile of Jekyll Island's coastline, the state agency and private developer working to revitalize the island abruptly changed course Wednesday.

Lawmakers, island residents and visitors, who had for weeks waged a legislative battle to protect the stretch of open public beach, cautiously declared victory, saying the new plan appears to be in line with residents' wishes for the swath of sand.

"They own it today," Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, said. "With this announcement, they own it tomorrow."

But they stressed that the Jekyll Island Authority and developer Linger Longer Communities must still live up to the bargain and declined to fully endorse the new plan while its exact outlines were still unavailable.
"It looks good, and we congratulate the people of Georgia for holding onto their beach," said Dory Ingram, a volunteer lobbyist for the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island.

The stretch of shoreline will now include a public park and a planned Environmental Conservation Center, authority Chairman Ben Porter wrote in a letter to House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island.
"After conferring with our revitalization partner, Linger Longer Communities, we have made the decision to limit use of this area to those public purposes and not development of accommodations, such as hotels or condominiums," Mr. Porter wrote.

He said the change made it unnecessary for the General Assembly to pass a law that would have severely restricted development in the area and could actually hurt the new proposal.

Mr. Keen, who leads a committee charged with keeping an eye on the development, praised the move.
"I'm excited that Linger Longer and the JIA are moving in that direction," he said. "That was the intent of the oversight committee, and I think that's good news."

It comes after weeks of legislative wrangling over the future of the beach, the latest flashpoint in a fight over the redevelopment of the island that has raged through two legislative sessions. But Jim Langford, the Linger Longer executive overseeing the project, said changes were in keeping with a promise to consider public input that the developer began gathering before this year's session began.

There is little disagreement over whether Jekyll's sagging tourist infrastructure needs to be revamped, but critics worry that Linger Longer's $352 million plan could compromise the island's tradition as an affordable getaway for average Georgians.

Despite several defeats this session, the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island continued to rally public support for proposals that would have limited development in the area.

Jekyll Island Authority Questions Leases
Maybe no homes belong on island, finance chairman suggests

The Times - Union

By CAROLE HAWKINS, Times-Union correspondent
April 15, 2008

JEKYLL ISLAND - For two years, Georgians have asked their state legislators not to build new private residences, condominiums or mansions on Jekyll Island State Park.

Now the board that governs island operations says it has heard the call, but with a twist.

The Jekyll Island Authority will "start looking at" whether to extend beyond 2049 the leases of homeowners living on the island today. Bob Krueger, chairman of the authority's Finance Committee, made the suggestion Monday at the board's monthly meeting. Ben Porter, chairman of the authority board, endorsed Krueger's proposal.

"A number of people have said this should be a state park without private residences," Porter said. "I would ask the Finance Committee to add this to your list of responsibilities and examine whether residential leases ought to continue."

an, R-Brunswick, who has battled redevelopment plans in the General Assembly, with giving him the idea.
Chapman disputed that interpretation.

The island's current permanent residents live in 627 private homes built in the 1950s and 1960s on property leased from the authority, marketing director Eric Garvey said.

The General Assembly extended the authority's lease on the island beyond 2049, but the authority itself has not decided whether to extend the home-owners' leases.

A decision must be made so 30-year mortgages on homes may be written after 2010, allowing for an additional 10-year period to obtain financing, Porter said.

Krueger said recent calls to curb development of private residences on Jekyll Island mean the public doesn't want to see these existing leases renewed.

"The question has been raised by Sen. Chapman as to whether we should even have residential development on Jekyll Island," Krueger said.

Chapman, whose district includes the island, had sponsored a failed bill that would have banned construction of any new permanent residences on the island.

The bill was in response to surveys of more than 5,000 Jekyll Island visitors, many of whom opposed the 277 proposed condominiums. Because the condos would be privately owned, Chapman and others feared they would not be used for vacation rentals as intended.

During a telephone interview, Chapman called Krueger's statements about not renewing the leases combative and threatening toward residents, and unfortunate.

"My position with regards to the existing private residences is that that has already occurred and we should honor that," Chapman said. "It is within the authority's power not to renew the leases. But the authority has been very supportive of expanding private residences with new condominiums."

Speaking to the board at Monday's meeting, Jekyll resident Sandy Cerrato voiced a similar sentiment.
Cerrato thanked island residents for "the thousands of volunteer hours they contribute to this island.''
"If you don't want these residents, tell me how do you intend to justify building all those condominiums and time-shares?" Cerrato asked.

Island resident Mindy Egan, co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, called the lease action "payback" for residents' opposition to the authority's development plans.

"I'm so proud there were so many of our residents who spoke out against the authority in spite of the intimidating statements that their leases might not be renewed," Egan said.

At the meeting, residents had called on the authority to finish an environmental impact study and a capacity study before continuing with town square center plans.


Suite time for Jekyll lodging offerings

The Times-Union

July 14, 2008
Times-Union correspondent

JEKYLL ISLAND - Today a decades-old spell on Jekyll Island hotel businesses will be broken. The Hampton Inn Hotel and Suites, the first new hotel the barrier island has seen in 36 years, will begin construction. The project closes a chapter of infrastructure decline at the state park.

Designed by a local development group, the Hampton Inn and Suites will target mid-market consumers, said Kevin Runner, general manager of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel.

"For Jekyll Island it means we're going to offer something that hasn't been seen in over 30 years - a new hotel." he said. "Hampton Inn is a solid, value-driven product."

There will be a ceremonial groundbreaking today on a 138-room hotel, the first of three phases of the $75 million project. Phase two will add a conference center, a restaurant and boutique and 88 rooms. Phase three will build a 66-room condo-style hotel, with kitchenettes for long-term stays. The whole resort will be called Jekyll Island Club Beach Village.

It will be built by Jekyll Ocean Oaks, a local development team, and will have the same owners as the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Runner said.

The Hampton Inn will replace the Holiday Inn, which had been the island's newest hotel before it was torn down in May 2006. The Holiday Inn was built in 1972.

Jekyll's hotels had suffered decline for many years, according to Runner, because old lease structures did not encourage property reinvestment. But new extended leases and business friendly agreements have been turning the tide.

The governing Jekyll Island State Park Authority issues leases on the state-owned barrier island.

"Thirty years ago, Jekyll Island State Park had something for everyone," Runner said. "We had the mom and pop hotels, mid-market inns, the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and a convention center that was state of the art."

Planning modern facilities that serve all income levels will create a vital business community again on Jekyll, Runner said.

The Hampton Inn site is a beachside location, but dunes and a maritime forest block a beach view. Runner says the site is perfect for a quiet, more private vacation.

"The sand has increased in the area and it is incredibly beautiful, like white powder," he said. "Our path to the beach goes through a densely wooded section of the island. It's a secluded place, without a lot of foot traffic."
While Jekyll's governing authority has drawn fire for some of its larger development initiatives, Jekyll Ocean Oaks is one project that has wide community support.

"We have a high degree of confidence in the plan they are putting forward," said Frank Mirasola, past president of the Jekyll Island Citizens Association. "They talked to us ahead of time and asked us what we were looking for."

The project remains close to the original footprint of the previous development, has turtle-friendly lighting, and will require the removal of only five trees from the site, Mirasola said. Residents have been wary of beachside condo developments, but Mirasola said this developer doesn't go over the top with condos.
"They're all local people doing it. They have a feel of what the island is about and what we're trying to preserve," Mirasola said.

The Hampton Inn and Suites is scheduled to open in July 2009. The Jekyll Island Club Beach Village will open in January 2010.

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Jekyll dims lights for turtles
Ordinance helps loggerheads nest

The Times - Union

By CAROLE HAWKINS, Times-Union correspondent
August 12, 2009

JEKYLL ISLAND - Low to the ground and red: That is the only type of outdoor lights visitors are likely to see near Jekyll Island beaches within a few months.

The changes will protect threatened loggerhead sea turtles and their hatchlings, which may lose their way back to sea if disoriented by artificial light.

Today, the Jekyll Island Authority board, Jekyll's governing body, is expected to pass an improved "sea-turtle friendly" lighting ordinance. The old lighting ordinance has not been updated since 1981. Recent plans to rebuild and double the number of hotels and condominiums along Jekyll beaches demanded that a more modern policy be adopted.

"Basically this new ordinance means we're doing it the right way now," said Steve Newell, a Jekyll resident and retired biologist who authored the first draft of the new ordinance for the Authority.

There is a lot at stake in Jekyll. Of the state's record 1,544 known turtle nests, 161 are on Jekyll Island's beaches.

The sky-glow on Jekyll's beach has already become dimmer.

In June, Executive Director Jones Hooks directed the Jekyll Island staff to turn off outdoor lights at Blackbeard's Restaurant and two tall pole lights that were illuminating main beach parking lots. Visible from the beach, the lights were not in compliance even under the 1981 ordinance.

Georgia Power is also joining the effort, Jekyll marketing director Eric Garvey said. Within two weeks the company will shield its street lights and convert to low-sodium bulbs, which don't produce as much glow.

"Support for the new ordinance has been fantastic," said Hooks. "I want to thank Georgia Power for quickly addressing our street lights and bringing them in compliance."

Jekyll's 1981 ordinance prohibited outdoor lights that shine directly on the beach. But, environmentalists know a lot more about sea turtles now, said Mark Dodd, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Coastal Resources Division. A sea turtle expert, Dodd is part of a team of scientists who are rewriting the federal recovery program for loggerheads.

"We know that sea turtles seem to only be disturbed by a lot of blue and green light," Dodd said in an earlier interview. "Amber and red lights are less disturbing."

Scientists have also learned that indirect lighting matters, not just direct lights. Lights oriented up instead of down, ones that bounce off trees, or hotel flood lights can contribute enough sky-glow to confuse sea turtles, Dodd said.

"If it's a dark moonless night and you can still see your shadow on the beach, that's too much light," Dodd said.

Newell, who formerly worked as a research scientist and director of the Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, had proposed a new lighting rule last spring. The draft ordinance he developed was similar to one now used by Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Jekyll projects manager Jim Broadwell brought the draft to DNR for its recommendations. DNR staff, including Dodd, developed the final version.

The new rules require red or amber outdoor lights, low pressure sodium bulbs, or turtle-safe coated and compact fluorescent lamps under 13 watts.

Exterior lights within line-of-sight with the beach must point down and be completely shielded. Parking lot lights cannot stand more than 48 inches off the ground.

Newell said the new, more specific language makes it clear what kind of lights are needed for compliance.

He also praised a requirement to tint hotel windows to transmit 45 percent of light or less on all rooms facing the beach. Some rooms in the planned new hotels will reach as high as 60 feet.

"We know visitors are going to have their lights on when they go into those rooms," said Newell. "Without the tinting it might as well be a big light pole on the beach."

The ordinance makes non-compliance a lease violation for Jekyll business owners.

But enforcement for guests who walk nighttime beaches may prove a little more complex. Campfires and bonfires are prohibited on the beach during nesting season under the new rules.

Vehicles are already prohibited on Georgia beaches except in special circumstances.

"Our approach will be to work towards better education for our guests and also the staff and workers on the island," said Garvey. An educational brochure is being developed for distribution at stores and hotels, he said.

The Jekyll ordinance will likely set a new standard for Georgia beach development projects. Noel Holcomb, chairman of the Department of Natural Resources' Shore Protection Committee, has said he intends to promote these same principles when permitting future projects under Georgia's Shore Protection Act.

The proposed sea turtle ordinance can be viewed by clicking here.

Board told to build up Jekyll

TheFlorida Times-Union

September 16, 2008
By CAROLE HAWKINS, Times-Union correspondent

JEKYLL ISLAND - A year and a half since haggling began over how many new hotels or condos ought to be added to Jekyll Island State Park, revitalization now has a $99 million target.

That's how much Jekyll must collect in 15 years to rebuild the island's aging roads, historic district, retail district and visitor attractions, says a consultant. And it is also the total amount new development ought to raise, the Bleakly Advisory Group told the Jekyll Island Authority board Monday.

Bleakley presented the findings of its development impact study to the board during its regular monthly meeting.

For two years the Jekyll Island Authority has planned to fund the island's revitalization by building new hotels, cottages, timeshares and condos, which would bring in revenue through leases. Critics have worried the drive to raise cash will leave the largely unspoiled Jekyll looking like a new Hilton Head resort.
After it awarded two hotel expansion projects last year and selected a developer for a proposed beachside town square center with 1,100 new hotel, condo and timeshare units, the authority decided to conduct a capacity study to forecast the impact new development would have on the island's infrastructure, environment and visitor experience. It was clear Monday, however, the approach would be to first study the impact to Jekyll's bottom line.

Though Jekyll reported a positive cash flow for 2007, the park is living on borrowed time, said Gary Mongeon, project director for the Bleakly study. Assets are depreciating at a faster rate than revenue is coming in to replenish them, and soon crumbling infrastructure will need to be replaced.

To raise the needed $99 million, 6 percent of the island should be re-developed, Mongeon said. But the build-out density would be comparable with other parts of the island, he said.

"We are encouraged by what we found," said Mongeon. "This says the level of development that is required is not out of the realm of possibility."

The study calls for more than doubling current lodging on Jekyll from 1,800 rooms, units and campsites to 4,100. One thousand of the new units would be hotels, 500 would be hotel-condos and the rest would be duplexes, timeshares, cottages and other vacation rentals.

David Egan, co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, a group that favors restrained development, was cautiously skeptical of the Bleakly analysis.

"The ultimate goal of public land planning is to enhance the quality of the visitor experience. I didn't hear anything so far about how this development would do that," he said. "People come to this place now because it doesn't have the kind of development they say we need to have."

He said the visiting public ought to be consulted in any study that would attempt to assess impact to the visitor experience.

The authority has invited the public to a second meeting Sept. 29 for questions and comments. The public presentation will compare a built-out Jekyll Island with other comparable island resorts, so people can assess how the changes will impact the visitor experience.

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