Sides spar on future Jekyll plan
Residents are skeptical of the Bleakly Advisory Group's analysis.

Georgia Times Union

JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. - A built-out Jekyll Island State Park won't end up looking like a second Myrtle Beach, a public real estate consultant says. Compare it to Savannah's Tybee Island or to St. George Island in Florida instead.

The Bleakly Advisory Group presented a statistical analysis Monday that compared a redeveloped Jekyll Island, planned for 2023, with nine other island tourist spots in the Southeast. The purpose was to show how planned hotel and condominium developments might affect Jekyll's visitor experience.

Audience members challenged the analysis, saying Bleakly should not have included land that is off limits to development, such as protected areas and marshes, when computing population and building densities for Jekyll.

For the past two years, Jekyll's governing authority has worked to rebuild the island's aging hotels and introduce new vacation condos to raise cash for state park improvements.To date, it has brokered five redevelopment contracts, including a new $100 million beach village at the island's center.

Bleakly told the authority in October it would need 4,100 hotel rooms, condos and campsites to attract the 2.6 million visitors Jekyll needs to make the park self-sustaining. Jekyll currently has 1,800 accommodations. the five projects already planned will achieve 90 percent of the buildout, Bleakly reported.

Bleakly project director Gary Mongeon presented a picture Monday of what the new Jekyll Island would look like.

Residential development would be the second-lowest in the list of selected vacation spots and would most closely resemble Florida's St. George Island at about one unit per every 5 acres, Mongeon said.

"This is one of the most relevant comparisons because private residences tend to have the most impact," Mongeon said. "They tend to be large and more spread out than hotel rooms or campsites."

As for number of people per square mile, Jekyll's crowds in 2023 will fall somewhere in the middle of the group, said Mongeon, slightly more dense than Florida's Santa Rosa Island.

Other comparisons put Jekyll in the low or middle range for land and infrastructure impacts.

"This report makes a very compelling argument for the development strategy that's been laid out,"  Mongeon said. "People can look at the quality of life and environmental experience in these places and decide if development on Jekyll would preserve that."

Several in attendance questioned the analysis.

Bleakly used figures obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, an approach that Mongeon said brought consistency across the 10 sites compared, but which also counted Jekyll's landmass at about 9,200 acres. Last month, the authority's own engineer, Thomas and Hutton, had calculated Jekyll's landmass at 4,152 acres, less than half the acreage used by Bleakly in its density projections.

The U.S. Census Bureau achieves a doubling of Jekyll's landmass by adding the park's adjacent marshlands all the way U.S. 17 into its total acreage. That makes the Bleakly comparison distorted, island resident Steve Newell says.

"None of the marshland can be filled or developed in any way, so this method ... is clearly deceptive," he said.

David Kyler, of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, said because by law only 35 percent of Jekyll may be developed, density figures ought to be based upon developable land, which is 1,425 acres.

Norm Haft, co-chairman of the Jekyll Island Citizens Association, didn't think the other nine islands bleakly chose were all that comparable to Jekyll.
none of the nine are located on a state or national park. Santa Rosa Island is located on public land that is county owned.

Mongeon said his company looked for locations that were accessible by car, had both residential and commercial development, had a small land area, were adjacent to state or national parks or historic landmarks and were not heavily populated.