Jekyll Island drops building height limit to 45-foot max
Jekyll Island Authority board approved new limitation Monday
Georgia Times-Union
June 19, 2014
By Terry Dickson

For more pictures of the Westin and beach village, click here.

Some Jekyll Island residents say the Westin hotel, seen under construction from the island's main intersection, was built too tall for its beachfront location.

JEKYLL ISLAND | When it is complete, the Westin hotel will be the tallest building on Jekyll Island, likely forever.

The Jekyll Island Authority board voted this week to lower the maximum height limit for buildings from 72 feet to 45 feet. The latter height limit equals the restrictions that Glynn County has in place, but is 10 feet higher than that of Tybee Island.

Because its plan to build three hotels was approved well before the new height limit was adopted this week, developer Trammel Crow can still build to 54 feet, the standard that had applied to some hotels outside the central business district around the Jekyll Island Convention Center. The height limits for the northern and southern ends of the island had always been lower.

“We all along envisioned not every building being the maximum height,’’ Jekyll Island spokesman Eric Garvey said. “Any new development is going to know we’re not going to approve a height like the Westin.”

Pierre Howard, president of the Georgia Conservancy, praised the limitation as being about the same as the older hotels on the island. The Georgia Conservancy, the GreenLaw environmental legal firm and others raised the height issue during negotiations with Jekyll Island Authority Executive Director Jones Hooks that resulted in new law limiting additional development on Jekyll Island to 78 acres. Only 20 acres of that acreage can be used for residential construction and the new restrictions will apply to anything built there.

It was agreed, however, that the height limit would be handled best through regulation rather than legislation, Howard said.

“As the reliable partner that he has proven to be, Jones Hooks followed through on his commitment. The height restriction is important in preserving the character of the island for future generations,’’ Howard said.

David Egan, co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island State Park, agreed but said he wishes the change had come sooner.

“In all, it’s a very good thing. We certainly would commend the authority for taking this step,’’ Egan said.

The 72-foot limit was always too tall for the beach side of the island and was the same as the top of the spire on the historic Jekyll Club Hotel, which sits in a far different environment.

“Why pick the tallest structure on the opposite side of the island nestled in big oaks and shift it to the other side of the island on the beach?” Egan said.

There is nothing to shield the Westin from view or to make it blend in with the landscape, unlike the “low slung” Convention Center and the retail center that will be built next door, he said.

“We’ve always said nature should steal the show here. It’s that beautiful look that brings people to the island and not the built view,’’ he said.

But the big hotel overlooking the ocean a short walk from the Convention Center is just what Jekyll Island needs to compete for conventions, the authority has said.

Egan said he also wishes the Trammell Crow development had come under the new guidelines because, like the Westin, it will be very close to the beach.

“We’re wondering what 54 feet will look like on the beach,’’ he said.

Island residents like Egan aren’t the only ones paying attention. Residents from around the state are known for objecting loudly when there is a policy change that they believe will adversely affect the island.

Tom Morgan of Bloomington, Ind., said he and his wife have come to Jekyll at least once a year since honeymooning there in 1981. He welcomed the new height restriction but, like Egan, wishes it had come before the Westin was built.

“That’s the first thing you see when you get here,’’ he said.

Morgan said he and his wife first saw the Westin last Christmas and thought, “Man, that’s big. Now it’s even bigger.”

With the hotel looming on the horizon, Morgan said, “I think it misrepresents what the rest of the island is like. We like the rest.”

Not everyone agrees. Adrian and Jessie Udelhoven of rural southern Wisconsin and their three children arrived on Jekyll Wednesday for their first visit. As they waded on the beach in front of the Westin and collected shells, the Udelhovens said the hotel looks OK to them.

Jessie Udelhoven said she believes it will be beautiful when it’s finished.

Terry Dickson: (912) 264-0405