House proposal says Jekyll Island has reached development limits
Only 35 percent of the land can be developed; bill says the limit has been met.

Georgia Times-Union

By Carole Hawkins
11 March 2010

State Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, introduced a bill Wednesday that would classify 35 percent of Jekyll Island State Park as already developed.

House Bill 1352, would "tighten up" the definition of developed land on Jekyll to include land that has been described as disturbed - such as man-made ponds - but so far counted as undeveloped.

By state law, 65 percent of Jekyll Island must remain in an undeveloped state, so the bill would halt future commercial expansion on Jekyll. But several exemptions will allow projects already slated for construction to proceed.

Those exemptions include 1.75 acres for a new convention center, bicycle trails planned for Jekyll's south end and a campground expansion.

A year ago, plans to build a new town center and modernize park amenities stirred debate over how much developable land remained on Jekyll. At that time, an engineer for the authority said it had about 55 acres left to work with.

But some disputed that interpretation.

The report relied on Jekyll's 1996 Master Plan, which include paved roads and rights-of-way, bike paths, golf courses and lakes and ponds used for recreation in the definition of developed land, Jekyll executive director Jones Hooks said at the time.

But David Egan, co-director of watchdog organization The Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, said other features, such as golf course water hazards, dirt roads and man-made drainage ditches were placed in the undeveloped category.

"I think common sense dictates that some of these things are clearly developed," Egan said.

Buckner said her bill does not intend to stop redevelopment today but to address the 65/35 provision clearly as the issue resurfaces later.

"Basically it defines disturbed land as developed," Buckner said. "If it's been changed by anyone but the hand of God, it's developed."

Jekyll authority chief communications officer Eric Garvey agrees the legislation would mean 35 percent of Jekyll has already been developed and also that it wouldn't affect the authority's short term development plans. But, he said, it's not needed.

"Between the [Jekyll Island legislative] oversight committee and the authority board we think we have sufficient oversight," he said. "Also, we think there are sufficient laws in place to control what can be developed on Jekyll Island."

Buckner said the bill will serve a purpose, though.

"A lot of times we do things in law just to make extra sure. I think Jekyll's worth the extra protection," she said.