State Representative Aims to Preserve Jekyll Island State Park

On March 10, 2010, House Bill 1325 was introduced by state Representative Debbie Buckner (D – Junction City), the purpose of which is to uphold an April, 1971 act specifying that the Jekyll Island Authority has no power to develop more than 35 percent of the land area of Jekyll Island. 

Unfortunately, the 1971 act, which is arguably the most important piece of Jekyll legislation ever enacted by the Georgia General Assembly, did not define the terms “developed” and “undeveloped” land. Definitions for those terms were provided by the JIA 25 years later, as part of the 1996 Jekyll Island Master Plan (1996). In some cases, though, the JIA’s seem to defy logic and to be out of step with best practices by professionals in land use classification.

For example, the vast majority of the 65 acres of lakes and ponds within Jekyll’s golf course complex are man-made, having been engineered the purpose of providing fill dirt to contour the fairways and elevate the tees and greens.  Twenty of these water bodies also serve as hazards (penalty stroke areas) and are therefore vital parts of the golf courses’ design.

According to the standards used by the American Planning Association, the Georgia Planning Association, and the National Resources Inventory, land cleared for a golf course is “developed.” According to the JIA, however, those man-made water bodies are “undeveloped.”

If, as in the case of Jekyll’s golf courses, a significant number of acres have been developed—meaning engineered by man, improved or otherwise removed from their natural condition—but nonetheless have been classified as “undeveloped” by the JIA, then  the 35 percent cap on development could be violated without the law appearing to have been defied. 

Part of Jekyll’s landfill (14 acres) is also classified by the JIA as “undeveloped” land; so are more than 11 acres of unpaved roads. National standards for land use classification say both of these features constitute “developed” land.

Currently, the JIA maintains that 1,397 of Jekyll’s 4,152 acres (33.66 percent) are “developed,” and that 55 acres are, therefore, eligible for development before the 35 percent cap is reached.

In response to the irregularities in the JIA’s land classification, and in an effort to ensure the sanctity of the 65/35 law, Rep. Buckner drafted legislation to define “developed,” undeveloped,” and “disturbed land” in accord with how those terms are widely understood among professionals in the field of land use planning.

If the definitions offered in HB1325 become law, and if it is then shown that the 35 percent cap has been reached or surpassed, then no development of currently undeveloped land would be allowed on Jekyll Island, with the exception of the already planned expansion of the island’s campground, the completion of Jekyll’s bike trail network, and the 1.75 acres of undeveloped land needed for the redesign of Jekyll’s entryway, which is part of the Authority’s town center project.

HB1325 would not affect plans to redevelop Jekyll’s oceanfront hotels or the Jekyll town center project.

In sum HB1325 is not an anti-development bill but rather an attempt to ensure that 65 percent of Jekyll Island remains in its natural state, as legally required and as virtually all stakeholders agree should be the case.

HB 1325 has been assigned to the State Institutions and Property Committee, where it is awaiting a hearing.

IPJI will be emailing its followers with additional information about HB1325 and how they can support it if they feel the bill is in Jekyll’s best interests.

To read HB1325, click here.

To read a Georgia Times-Union article on HB1325, click here.

To see pictures of the water hazards on Jekyll's golf courses, click here.

The fate of HB 1325, click here