2. RFI Topic:  The definitions of the terms “developed” and “undeveloped” land in relation to the legal requirement that no more than 35 percent of Jekyll Island can be developed

Recommendation: Align the Master Plan’s definitions of “developed” and “undeveloped” land with national standards in land use classification

The Jekyll Island State Park Authority Act, as amended in April 1971, provides that the JIA may only “survey, subdivide, improve, and lease or sell” up to 35 percent of the land area of Jekyll Island which lies above water at mean high tide. It is arguably the most important piece of legislation passed by the Georgia General Assembly because this law has helped to preserve what the Jekyll Island Master Plan describes as the island’s main attraction, namely “the accessibility it provides to an unspoiled microcosm of the coastal environment.”

There is virtually unanimous support for maintaining the 65/35 law. However, to ensure that the spirit and intent of the limitation placed on development provided in the Act and the will of the people are fully realized, the definitions of “undeveloped” and “developed” land provided in the 1996 Master Plan must be revised. Those definitions do not currently conform with regularly and widely accepted practices of land planning and state park management.

IPJI, therefore, recommends that the terms “developed” and “undeveloped” be defined in the Master Plan in accord with how they are widely understood among professionals in the field of land use classification and planning. The American Planning Association and its affiliates, including the Georgia Planning Association, along with the National Resource Inventory and various federal agencies involved with land use definitions and planning, rely on the Land-Based Classification Standards (LBCS) for defining “developed” and “undeveloped” land, a system created in 2000.

The JIA’s definitions of developed/undeveloped land, as stated in the Master Plan, are, in some cases, inconsistent with the LBCS.  For example, the 65 acres of man-made lakes that were engineered to provide fill dirt to contour Jekyll Island’s golf courses and to help with drainage are classified as “undeveloped” in the 1996 Master Plan.

According to the LBCS, however, all interior land or water areas less than 10 acres that are completely surrounded by golf course land are defined as built up, or developed, land. In addition, the LBCS states that water bodies less than 40 acres that are artificial (defined as “created by human activity”) are to be classified as “built," meaning "developed.”

The Master Plan’s definitions are also inconsistent with one another in some cases. For example:
  • Some “borrow pits” that have been filled with water—such as the ones just to the north of Jekyll’s landfill—are classified as “developed,” whereas the golf course borrow pits (now lakes) are not.
  • “Cleared golf course areas” are defined in the Master Plan as “developed,” but sizable areas of woodland and savannah that were cleared to build Jekyll’s golf courses are classified as “undeveloped.”
  • “Active use recreational areas,” including lakes and ponds, are classified as “developed” by the Master Plan, but the golf courses’ man-made water bodies, many of which serve as hazards (penalty stroke areas) and are a functional part of an active use recreational area, are classified as “undeveloped.” 
These inconsistencies must be resolved in the Master Plan update.

- By David Egan, Co-director, The Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island [degan@igc.org]