JIA Board Discusses Revising 65/35 Law: IPJI Summary and Commentary

The state law limiting development of Jekyll Island State Park was discussed at the August 26th meeting of the JIA board as part of a board workshop on a new Master Plan for Jekyll Island. Here’s the gist of what was covered:

  • The JIA claimed that Jekyll Island’s land area above mean high water (MHW) is 5,530 acres, a figure that includes virtually all of Jekyll’s tidal marsh. Click here to see land area map,.
  • If that figure is accurate, 1,935 acres of the island would be eligible for development under the 1971 state limiting the developed portion of the island to 35% of the land area that lies above water at mean high tide. According to the JIA, 1,609 of those 1,935 acres have already been developed, leaving 327 acres eligible for future development.
  • The board discussed replacing the 65/35 ratio with a fixed number of acres subject to development. The JIA staff recommended two options in this regard: setting the limit at 1,650 acres, which would leave 41 acres subject to development (1,650 minus the 1,609 acres already developed); or setting the limit at 1,675 acres, with 46 acres reserved for “health, public safety, and/or recreational purposes,” and 20 acres set aside for unrestricted use. 
  • Only three of the seven board members in attendance voiced an opinion on these two options. Two favored option #2; a third asked why not set the limit at 1,775 acres instead of 1,675 since the JIA is (allegedly) 327 acres below the 35% development limit and might want to reserve more of those acres for future use. 
  • The JIA’s Executive Director pointed out that the Authority already has plenty of redevelopment opportunities and that adding more acres to the proposed fixed number eligible for development therefore might not be necessary.
  • No decision was reached on the fixed acreage option; further discussion will take place in coming weeks.

Conservation groups, including IPJI, are now considering the pros and cons of the proposed fixed acreage approach for determining the maximum number of acres that could be developed on Jekyll Island and whether limiting further commercial development to a maximum of 20 acres is appropriate. [Note: the 200-room Jekyll Westin hotel now under construction is on just 6 acres of land.]

Also under discussion is the JIA’s contention that Jekyll Island’s land area is 5,530 acres and 327 acres are still eligible for development under the 65-35 law. Of concern here is the fact that the 65-35 law applies to “the land area of Jekyll Island that lies above water at mean high tide.”  On-site conditions within Jekyll’s marsh, as illustrated by aerial and ground level photographs, show that the vast majority of the marsh is actually under water (wet) at the time of a typical high tide, not dry as claimed by the JIA.  By law, if an area is under water at mean high tide, it cannot be counted as part of Jekyll’s land area.

A related problem is that, while Georgia’s Attorney General has recently ruled that the JIA may count as ‘land’ tidal marsh above water at mean high tide, there is a compelling legal argument that tidal marsh – all of it – is not land. If tidal marsh is discounted from the land area total, the island would be roughly 3,820 acres and only 1,337 acres would be development-eligible, according to the 65-35 law.

Further details on the Jekyll land area issue will be posted on IPJI’s website as they become available.

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