House Bill 1325 and the Preservation of
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, those definitions seem to defy logic and are out of step with best practices in land use classification.
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.
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 had become law, and if it was then shown that the 35 percent cap has been reached or surpassed, then no development of currently undeveloped land would be possible 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.
In sum HB1325 was 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.